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Soviet Union

The Middle East and North Africa

Among the Third World regions, the Middle East was a central concern of Soviet foreign policy. The region borders the Soviet Union and therefore has a direct impact on national security. Also, various ethnic, religious, and language groups existing in the region are found also in Soviet border areas and thus constitute a possible threat to Soviet control. The Middle East is also of strategic concern because the Mediterranean Sea and Persian Gulf serve as waterways joining together Europe, Asia, and North Africa, and the region contains oil resources vital to Western industrial production.

In the post-World War II period, the main Soviet goal in the region has been to reduce British and, more recently, United States influence. Termination of the British colonial and protective role in the Middle East by the early 1970s created a military power vacuum in the region, which Iran sought unsuccessfully to fill with United States backing. In the late 1980s, however, the growing Soviet military presence in the region was underscored by the belated United States commitment to protect shipping in the Persian Gulf from Iranian attack, after the Soviet Union had already begun its own efforts to protect such shipping at the behest of the Kuwaitis.

Data as of May 1989