The Russian invasion of Ukraine has put several states in the Middle East in a very difficult position. On one hand, they cannot afford to openly condone aggression and the invasion of an independent country by a powerful neighbor and so they must condemn it (without angering Moscow), while on the other, they don’t want to risk their mutually beneficial relations with Russia by imposing sanctions.
These countries are balancing the delicate diplomatic task of verbally condemning Russian President Putin’s invasion, while at the same time avoiding joining economic and other sanctions imposed by Western nations.
Except for Syria and Iran, all countries of the Middle East have disappointed the United States, European Union, Canada and West as a whole on sanctions imposed against Russia. According to Politico’s influential journalism company in 2020 Finland was getting over two-thirds of their gas from Russia; Latvia, Estonia & Slovakia were 36 percent dependent on Russian energy while Bulgaria got nearly one third. Germany relied on Russian energy at 30 percent while Austria depended heavily upon it at 38 per cent; Greece had 45% reliance before moving to North Africa where they could secure other sources of supply like Algeria which is supplying them now with natural gas but still relies too much upon Russia overall. Italy received 25% or more than half its gasoline needs from Putin – as did Poland who depend heavily up until this time upon Moscow also previously having been reliant by 10%. Hungary received 75% (overall) and Slovenia around 30%. Lithuania has 42%, Romania 60%, Croatia 27%, Czech Republic 12& Netherlands 16%; Luxembourg 6%; Belgium 15%-almost half their fuel needs came from Moscow according to Politico news outlet assessments.
If Russia cuts off gas supplies to countries in response to sanctions imposed by the US and EU, these countries will face huge energy problems.
Washington and Brussels turned their attention to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia in hopes that these countries and OPEC as a whole would substantially raise their production in order to cover the energy shortfall on Europe’s behalf.
They were in for a surprise. Members of OPEC, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar decided to stick to an agreement previously agreed between member countries during their meeting held last week.
Even though the UAE is generally seen as being pro-western, it cooperates closely with Russia in the framework of OPEC+ which includes traditional members like Russia.
UAE Ambassador in Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, said the UAE is committed to OPEC+ agreement and its production adjustment mechanism. Later on though, UAE Energy Minister Suhail Al Mazrouei clarified that he meant Abu Dhabi was supporting higher production increases rather than a commitment to sticking with the agreed-on limit of output reduction.
In a surprising balancing act, on February 25th the UAE abstained from a resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine taken at the UN Security Council, while on March 2nd in United Nations General Assembly, The UAE voted for an non-binding and largely symbolic resolution demanding that Moscow immediately withdraw its troops from Ukraine.
Saudi Arabia has elaborated on its decision not to increase oil production in order to reduce soaring world prices, and it also announced that it is upholding the output agreement which was made with OPEC+.
A report from the Wall Street Journal says Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the leader of UAE Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan refused to speak with President Obama about a plan for oil exports. In contrast, both leaders have taken calls from Vladimir Putin and later from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are angry with Biden because they feel that the US had not really supported them when Iranian-backed Houthi forces launched missile strikes against targets in their respective states.
Furthermore, they are concerned because the US Administration is going ahead with the Iran nuclear deal without taking Saudi Arabia’s and The U.A.E.’s interests into consideration.
For his part, the Emir of Qatar has taken a lukewarm stand towards Russia’s invasion into Ukraine. In fact, he only called for “all parties to exercise restraint” without blaming Russia and because it doesn’t have enough liquefied natural gas to send elsewhere in Europe. He also argues that they cannot significantly divert their LNG exports from Asia as they are tied up in long-term supply contracts with those countries.
Egypt voted in favor of the US-backed resolution at the United Nations General Assembly condemning Russia’s invasion, but made it clear that it is not shutting down ties with Moscow. On March 3, Egypt announced that the Suez Canal would remain open to Russian ships.
Cairo’s main concern is that wheat imports from Russia will be disrupted, which would cause a food shortage and affect the well-being of its population.
Turkey’s recent relations with Ukraine, selling it its drones, and extensive trade ties with Russia make Turkey an important state actor in the conflict between them. It refused to join Western sanctions against Moscow but instead tried to play a mediator role. The meeting ended in failure when talks were stopped by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in no uncertain terms that the alliance expects all members to impose sanctions on Russia.
“At the moment, we do not plan to impose sanctions on Russia. Because we want to keep the channel of trust open.”
The spokesman’s statement is that Turkey plans on keeping their channels of communication with Russia open and continuing without imposing any sanctions at this time because they don’t want their economy impacted. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid condemns “the Russian attack on Ukraine as a serious violation of the international order.”
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet has been trying to mediate in the dispute between Ukraine and Russia. On March 5 he flew to Moscow where he had a three-hour talk with Vladimir Putin. Since then, he has had numerous telephone calls with both Putin and Zelensky.
If Putin agreed to a peace talks, Zelensky would be open to begin negotiations in Jerusalem. So far, no reply has been given from the Russian president but it is hoped that this mediation effort will prove more successful than the previous one.