NSS translation of an article from russian.rt.com.
Arabian Business: Russia and the United States switch places in the eyes of Arab youth
Opinion polls conducted in the countries of the Middle East show that Russia has acquired positions previously in the domain of the United States, according to Arabian Business. However, at the moment it is difficult to assess the long-term consequences of this shift.
To the chagrin of the United States, Russia has regained its position as a major international player in the Middle East - with many representatives of Arab youth positively assessing this change.
According to a poll among Arab youth (2018 Arab Youth Survey), the US has for the first time come out of the top five of the biggst allies of the Arab countries, dropping to 11th position.
Russia took the fourth place, becoming the only non-Arab country, included in the five states, which won the greatest approval of Middle Eastern youth. As the survey shows, there was a sharp decline in confidence in the US: most Arab youth now see Washington as an "enemy" - while their attitude toward Russia continues to improve.
When speaking about this sharp shift - in which the two world powers have in fact switched places - it is impossible not to discuss the complex (and constantly changing) context that caused it. Recall that up to the Fourth Arab-Israeli War of 1973 (the "Yom Kippur War"), Russia played an important role in the Middle East, but then the US began to seize key positions in regional diplomacy and made Egypt its ally. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia as a participant in international politics, actually exited the Middle East.
Nevertheless, when the US, began to give up its leading positions in the Middle East under the leadership of Barack Obama, Moscow took advantage of the situation and intervened in regional processes, carrying out a military invasion of Syria in 2015, when Russia, together with Iran and Hezbollah, moved to save the regime of Bashar Assad. Today, with Assad’s victory already visible on the horizon, international observers have begun to talk about the first successful international intervention in the processes occurring in the Arab world since the liberation of Kuwait in 1991.
Despite the fact that many young Arabs dislike the Assad regime, Russia has consolidated the image of a strong and determined power, a reliable ally, and a guarantor of stability and state sovereignty - as well as a country capable of winning. Nothing is more conducive to success in the future than successes in the past.
Russia in the region benefits primarily from how much it stands out against the background of the United States. For both supporters and detractors of America, the return of Moscow to the Middle East as an important regional player paves the way to a number of promising options for the development of events. Even some of the most dedicated US allies in the region are establishing closer ties with Russia as an alternative supplier of weapons.
It is possible that Saudi Arabia's interest in the Russian anti-aircraft missile system S-400 is sincere. Or, likewise, Saudi Arabia could be trying to put pressure on Washington to finally secure the supply of US THAAD missile defence systems. Today, Riyadh needs these installations more than ever, because they will allow the country to shoot down missiles launched by Yemeni rebel Houthis. Whatever the case may be, Russia as an alternative supplier of weapons is beneficial both in itself and as a lever of influence on Washington.
The Decline of America
For more than 20 years, almost nothing was heard about Russia in the Middle East, and now she is reaping the fruits of this oblivion. Whichever group you take: patriots, supporters of the unity of the Arab world or Islamists - in most regional problems, all of them - sometimes fairly, and sometimes undeservedly – are condemning the US. For Russia they recognize the right to start from scratch. Often this warm attitude is based on the principle: "Anyone but the USA!"
And this love by contrast, as well as the impression of a successful player, served as the main reasons why Russia is not condemned too much for the destruction in Syria. They are accusing Washington for everything – for things that America really did, and for things that it did not do - in part because of high expectations. A major role was played by the absence of a peace treaty between Palestine and Israel, especially after decades of virtually monopolistic attempts to untie this knot (with sympathy for Israel). They gave Moscow virtually carte blanche for the actions in Syria - all in the interests of Iran, no less.
The United States is not just frankly tired of the conflict Middle East after the fiasco in Iraq – but apparently, Washington forgot that it is possible to achieve pinpoint targets with limited means, as was the case in Kuwait in 1991. This is the skill that Russia demonstrated in Syria.
Obama once predicted that the operation in Syria would "bleed" Russia, that she "will burst apart." Meanwhile, the impression in the region is that Russia is acting decisively and successfully and therefore appears as a formidable player amid the indecision and floundering of the United States. This stereotype was confirmed after a limited missile strike by the US on objects of the chemical weapons program in April 2018. Washington fastidiously avoided the positions of Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and even key government targets, choosing as targets a small number of chemical enterprises without special strategic significance. All once again were convinced that they really fear Russia, and that it won a decisive victory in Syria, which Washington does not want to or cannot challenge under any circumstances.
The role of personality in politics
The amazing changes in the minds of Arab youth - a more positive attitude toward Russia and a negative attitude toward the US - to a certain extent, of course, are explained by the personalities of the leaders of these countries. In the United States and beyond, Donald Trump is generally considered a fool, as well as a racist and a bully in addition, but not taken seriously. However, Vladimir Putin's image is strength, determination, persistence, steadfastness and self-esteem, which makes a huge impression on Trump himself. Putin acts as the embodiment of a successful, collected and purposeful Russia in contrast to the awkward, indecisive and hapless US.
Trump also managed to significantly strengthen the unfair notion that Islamophobia is raging in the US, while Putin and Russia are not known for anything like this. By contrast, Russia has united with such anti-Islamic Arab states as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and anti-Islamic forces in Libya, and also speaks at international conferences for "moderate Islam" and "fighting terrorism."
However, the positive halo that now surrounds Moscow can quickly fade. Restoring its position in the Middle East as an independent player, and not just acting as a sudden and long-awaited alternative to Washington, Russia will inevitably face the fact that it will have to answer for its actions, especially for its close partnership with Iran.
Thanks to the overwhelming success in Syria, achieved in a relative power vacuum, the military skills and presence of Russia in the region were greatly exaggerated. Despite the wide coverage and effectiveness of Russian propaganda -- for example, RT Arabic, the facts show that hundreds of Russian mercenaries died in the north of Syria from at the hands of a handful of US special forces. If Washington emerges from the shadows and returns to the role of a leader in the Middle East, which it voluntarily relinquished, Russia's appeal in the Arab world may be short-lived.