chapter  14
Russia in the Middle East: The Yeltsin Era and Beyond
Pages 10

One might argue that there is nothing new in Russia's perception of Turkey and Iran as the two most essential countries in the region. Historically speaking, the tsarist empire, as well as the pre-Second-WorldWar Soviet Union, had concentrated their political, diplomatic and, at times, military pressures on these two states, viewing them as the gatekeepers to the area. The Soviet's leap-frogging over them into the Arab world, as of the mid-1950s, resulted not only from the rising opportunities within the Arab nationalist regimes but also from the uninviting political circumstances in these two nations. Turkey has been a constant member of NATO and a founding member of the regional anti-Soviet military alliance. The Shah of Iran, for his part, before he was overthrown by the Islamic revolution, had

been a strategic ally of the USA, while the revolutionary regime that followed him showed, maybe for the first time during the Cold War, that breaking with Washington did not mean an automatic affmity with Moscow. To be precise, in the last 20 years of its existence, while the Soviet Union had been working hard - and with some degree of success - to improve its relationship with Ankara and Teheran, the strategic relationship with the Arab client states nonetheless remained, all along, the focal point of Soviet conduct in the region.