The Impact of COVID-19 on Russia’s Middle East and Syria Policies
The Impact of COVID-19 on Russia’s Middle East and Syria Policies
The Impact of COVID-19 on Russia’s Middle East and Syria Policies
By Leonid Isaev and Andrey Zakharov

Part of the Syria Transition Challenges Project

May 3 rd, Russia’s COVID-19 infection rate resembled that of the United Kingdom. This situation has the potential to significantly impact the country’s financial situation, influencing the country’s foreign policy toward the Middle East. By the beginning of the lock-down period, the most optimistic forecasts for 2020 predicted a fall in the Russian economy by 4-6% of GDP.1 However, after four weeks of confinement, a decline of 6-8% was considered to be the most positive scenario, provided that it is possible to avoid a second wave for the epidemic in the autumn as predicted by the Higher School of Economics forecast. 

The Russian situation is complicated by the fact that the outbreak of COVID-19 coincided with the dramatic decline in oil and gas prices. The federal budget’s breakeven price for 2020 was set at $42.4 per barrel.3 However, prices by the end of March and the beginning of April went significantly lower. This means that Russia may not be able to match the predicted government spending for 2020. Moreover, its leadership may not be able to spend money as generously to advance projects serving the country’s foreign policy.

Moscow, short on revenue, will unlikely take foreign policy and domestic political adventures. Foreign policy projects, primarily those that require significant budgetary expenditures in the Middle East and specifically in Syria, will be frozen. A passive Russian international engagement is expected to dominate until the end of 2020. The exception to this policy will be when a response is unavoidable. Domestic policy is likely to be just as reactive. The baseline will likely be to maintain the current state of affairs and absorb any shocks to stability given the scarcity of financial resources.


The ideas expressed are of the author’s not the publisher.

Published in June 2020

All rights reserved to GCSP

Leonid Isaev

Leonid Isaev is Associate Professor in the Department for Asian and African Studies in the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE), Saint Petersburg. He is also Deputy Head of the Laboratory for Monitoring the Risks of Socio-Political Destabilization in HSE; Senior Fellow at the Center for Civilizational and Regional Studies in the Institute of African Studies of the Russian Academy of Science; and coordinator of the "Russian in the Middle East" research project. He is a member of the Scientific Council of the Russian Political Science Association. He has published numerous monographs and journal articles, mostly in Russian and English. He is co-author of Syria and Yemen: Unfinished Revolutions (2013), Revolutions and Instability in the Middle East (2016); Fight for the Middle East: Regional Actors in the Course of Middle Eastern Conflict (2019), among many others. He is a regular contributor to Al Jazeera News.


Andrey Zakharov, RSUH

Andrey Zakharov (PhD in Philosophy) is currently an Associate Professor at the Department of History, Political Science, and Law at the Russian State University of Humanities. The area of his research is comparative federalism, on which he has published several books. He is an editor of “Neprikosnovenny Zapas: Debaty o Politike i Kulture” (Neprikosnovenny Zapas: Debates on Politics and Culture) magazine, one of the leading intellectual periodicals in Russia. From 1990 to 1995 he served as a Member of the Russian Parliament. He is an expert of The Gorbachev Foundation.