World Economic Forum (WEF) President Borge Brende spoke to CNBC on Sunday, discussing his take on the evolving geopolitical landscape in the Middle East.
It's no news that Russian presence in the region has grown. American withdrawal and disengagement from several of the region's hotspots has coincided with an apparent shift eastward, Brende said, inviting Moscow to exert its influence over that of the U.S.
"I think there is a clear reality on the ground that we see more of a Russian footprint in this region," Brende told CNBC's Hadley Gamble during the WEF on the Middle East and Africa in Amman, Jordan.
The Norwegian politician and diplomat, who served as foreign affairs minister before taking up the WEF presidency, pointed to some clear areas where Russia's foreign policy objectives have defined the trajectory of conflicts. This has been the case particularly in Syria, where Russian troops have supported Syrian leader Bashar Assad since 2015, enabling him to survive and essentially win that country's eight-year-long civil war.
"Of course in Syria, Russia now plays an important role, we also see that there is a lot of interaction between President Putin and Prime Minister Netanyahu (of Israel)," Brende said.
But other examples relating to trade and investment are clear indicators of increased Russian clout, he added. "We also see that the Gulf countries are discussing very much with Russia when it comes to the oil price, because Russia is the largest oil producer in the world, even larger than Saudi."
Russia's alliance with OPEC's largest oil producer Saudi Arabia and agreements for continued cooperation in energy, trade and investment have enabled closer ties between the two, and its sales of weapons systems like the S-400 missile defense system, which is now driving a wedge between NATO allies the U.S. and Turkey, is not lost on Washington.
Moscow has signed technical agreements and memoranda of understanding to sell the S-400 — which is a cheaper, and according to some analysts more effective version of the U.S. Patriot missile defense system — and other weapons to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.
And hundreds of Russian mercenaries allegedly linked to the Kremlin have been supporting the rebel leader of Libya's breakaway eastern half, General Khalifa Haftar, whose forces are now advancing on the capital Tripoli. Russia also maintains close ties to Israel and Iran.