Analysis: Gulf States are navigating cautiously in the war against Ukraine | Russo-Ukrainian War

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians who suffered from cluster bombs, missile attacks and other forms of brutality.

Meanwhile, average Russians face harsh new realities as crippling sanctions target their country. As this conflict rages on, no one knows how or when the war will end, let alone what Ukraine will look like once the dust settles. Either way, there will be huge implications for the Middle East.

The six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have significant stakes in this war. As countries that have historically deep ties to the West, but also have a multifaceted relationship with Russia, regional leaders are carefully navigating this conflict.

Although all GCC members voted earlier this month in favor of a UN General Assembly resolution condemning the Russian invasion, the Gulf monarchies are somewhat divided.

On one side of the spectrum is Kuwait, which has aligned its positions on this war most closely with the Western powers that oppose Moscow. Last month, when a UN Security Council resolution slammed Russia for assaulting Ukraine, Kuwait was the only Arab state to be on the list of 80 co-sponsors.

Moreover, on the same day that Russia launched its multi-pronged attack, Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry stressed the importance of defending Ukraine’s territorial dignity and sovereign rights. History is obviously a major factor.

“For Kuwait, the memory of the invasion of Iraq is a driver of their condemnation, as they want to establish a standard of respect for territorial sovereignty in the region,” said Caroline Rose, senior analyst and program manager. Power Vacuums at the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy, told Al Jazeera.

financial war

On February 28, the Foreign Minister of Qatar, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, spoke about the situation in Ukraine before the 49th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The head of Doha diplomacy called for “constructive dialogue within the framework of diplomatic means to resolve this crisis” while stressing “Qatar’s respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders”.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that while Qatar has defended Ukraine’s sovereignty, Doha does not join Western powers in advocating a financial war against Russia. Having developed deeper ties with Russia in the areas of investment, infrastructure and tourism, Qatar wants to avoid cutting ties with Moscow.

“Qatar is trying to demonstrate that it is a useful ally of the West and has truly earned its designation as a major non-NATO ally,” said Ryan Bohl, Middle East analyst at the risk consultancy Stratfor Rane. “But it should be noted that Qatar does not join in directly sanctioning Russia, but rather sticks to rhetorical and diplomatic support.”

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been much more careful to maintain neutrality. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia pivoted east towards Russia, China and India. This means that amid the conflicts between the West and Moscow, the rulers of Abu Dhabi and Riyadh will be careful to maintain the geopolitical balance.

Rather than siding with Moscow, these two Arab powers want to continue to develop their relations with Russia in addition to states opposed to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Such neutrality can pay off in the sense that the Emiratis and Saudis are unlikely to see their security, investment and trade relations with Russia suffer from a conflict in which they do not see the need to s involve directly.

“It is clear that the UAE has now sided with Russia, avoiding calling the intervention a ‘war’ in an effort to preserve high levels of trade and continue to position itself as a commercial and technology hub. regional,” according to Rose.

“We have seen a similar positioning among neighboring states who similarly want to take a neutral stance. The lack of condemnation of the Russian offensive in Ukraine also likely stems from the frustration of many Gulf states with the United States in recent months, with its gradual military withdrawal from the region and its frosty political ties.

“Icy Political Ties”

When it comes to Saudi Arabia’s response to the conflict, energy issues and tensions between the White House and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) are part of the picture. Through OPEC+, Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in its partnership with Russia, making it pragmatic for Riyadh to avoid antagonizing the Kremlin.

“With Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain seeking more neutrality, part of this is to avoid destabilizing oil markets with the 2020 price war still on the mind,” Bohl explained. . “It’s also partly about hedging their bets and making sure they still have ties to Moscow once the war in Ukraine is over one way or another.”

The fact that President Joe Biden is not speaking to the Crown Prince has not escaped Saudi leaders. Putin does, and in December 2018 the Russian president showed respect to MBS during the G20 summit in Argentina when other leaders shunned him following the barbaric murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This helps explain why Riyadh is not reacting to this crisis in a way that pleases Washington and angers the Kremlin.

“The question for the Saudis [is], if they were to antagonize the Russians by supporting America, what do they get in return? asked Andreas Krieg, assistant professor in the Department of Defense Studies at King’s College London.

“At the moment, with MBS not getting the support he wants from the Biden administration, and not the personal wooing he would like, the Saudis are unlikely to support the US approach without no concessions made by the Americans.”