UNITED ARAB EMIRATES:
Choosing sides in the Ukraine crisis would once have been easy for Gulf states long protected by the United States, but growing ties with Moscow are forcing them to strike a balance.
As the world rushed to condemn the Russian invasion of its smaller neighbor, wealthy Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), remained largely silent.
Middle East experts say their reluctance is understandable given what is at stake: energy, money and security.
“It’s not just the economic ties that are growing, but also the security ties of these states with Moscow,” said Anne Gadel, a Gulf expert and contributor to the French think tank Institut Montaigne.
On Friday, the United Arab Emirates abstained with China and India in a vote in the United States Security Council asking Moscow to withdraw its troops.
As expected, Russia vetoed the resolution co-authored by the United States and Albania, while 11 of the 15 council members voted yes.
After the vote, the new Emirati state agency WAM said the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates and the United States spoke by phone to review “global developments”. No mention was made of Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Russia will meet in Moscow on Monday to discuss “expanding the multifaceted relations between Russia and the United Arab Emirates”. .
Hours before Russia launched its massive land, sea and air assault on Ukraine on Thursday, the United Arab Emirates had “highlighted the depth of friendship” with Moscow.
The Gulf powerhouse, Saudi Arabia, did not react to the invasion, like the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman. Kuwait and Qatar contented themselves with denouncing the violence, stopping to criticize Moscow.
For more than seven decades, the United States has played a key role in the conflict-torn Middle East, including serving as a defender of the oil-rich Gulf monarchies against potential threats such as Iran.
But in recent years, Washington has begun to limit its military commitments in the region, even as its closest allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have come under attack from Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The facilities of Saudi oil giant Aramco were hit in 2019 by Iran-aligned insurgents.
The Gulf countries “understand that they need to diversify their alliances to compensate for the perceived withdrawal of the United States from the region”, Gadel said.
Politics is also essential.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two US allies who host US troops, have seen their ties with Washington turn into a love-hate relationship over arms deals and rights issues.
The 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul has strained relations with Riyadh, and the UAE has threatened to roll back a mega-deal for manufacturing F-35 jet fighters American.
“Russia is seen as an ideological ally as the US human rights conditions attached to its support become increasingly problematic,” said Andreas Krieg, Middle East expert and associate professor at King’s College London. .
“There was an integration of grand strategy between Moscow and Abu Dhabi with respect to the region. Both are counter-revolutionary forces and were keen to contain political Islam.”
“Difficult point diplomatically”
Despite growing security cooperation with Russia, which is directly involved in the Syrian and Libyan conflicts, Krieg says most GCC states “will always put their security eggs in the American basket.”
But “they began to diversify relations with American competitors and adversaries in other areas.”
Trade between Russia and GCC countries has grown from around $3 billion in 2016 to more than $5 billion in 2021, mostly with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, according to official figures.
The UAE, especially Dubai, has long been seen as a magnet for Russian investment and a vacation destination for Russia’s elite.
As major players in energy markets, most GCC states maintain relations with Russia as producer partners.
Riyadh and Moscow lead the OPEC+ alliance, strictly controlling production to support prices in recent years.
“Arab members of OPEC are in a delicate situation diplomatically, because maintaining “the OPEC+ agreement, which controls production, “is clearly at the forefront of their considerations,” said Ellen Wald, researcher. principal at the Atlantic Council think tank.
“The Gulf countries fear harming this relationship and are seeking to maintain Russian participation in OPEC+…If Russia left the group, the whole deal would likely fall apart.”
Despite calls from some major oil importers for crude producers to boost supply and help stabilize soaring prices, Riyadh, the world’s top exporter, has shown no interest.
“Remaining silent on the Russian action in Ukraine is probably the best solution at the moment,” Wald said.
“But this pragmatic position may become untenable if it is backed up on their position by Western leaders.”
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