Dynamics of Gulf States’ role in Ukraine war?
NEEDLESS to say, the war in Ukraine geopolitically and geoeconomically has almost affected every part of the globe.
Thus, the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have high stakes in this war. As countries that have historical deep ties to the West, but also have multifaceted relationships with Russia, regional leaders are cautiously navigating this conflict.
Despite all GCC members voting earlier this month in favour of a United Nations General Assembly resolution to condemn Russia’s invasion, Gulf monarchies are somewhat divided.
As the key stakeholders on energy markets, all countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) cultivate close relations with Russia in the area of energy.
Furthermore, for years already Riyadh and Moscow have been leading the OPEC Plus alliance, where they jointly control the production quotas in order to achieve market and price stability.
A general view: Like the rest of the Arab world, the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—have responded to the Russian invasion of Ukraine according to their interests and preferences.
While the fighting in Ukraine does not involve them or present a direct threat to regional stability, there are numerous secondary impacts that do have the potential to be consequential for these states’ interests.
These interests include disruption to energy markets, economic dislocation caused by international sanctions on Russia and new points of tension in (some) political relationships with the Biden Administration.
Both geopolitically and geoeconomically, there is renewed focus on the balancing act between historically solid political and security integration into the American network of partnerships in the Middle East and the rapid growth of economic, energy and investment connections with states such as Russia and China.
Like other Gulf States, the UAE also aspires to have a bigger political role in the regional and international arena, preserve important security, economic and military relations with Washington, but also its growing connections with Moscow.
This forces the Gulf countries to establish a difficult balance in the relations between the US and Russia.
While the world swiftly condemned the Russian military invasion of its smaller neighbour Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman predominantly remained silent on the issue, while Kuwait and Qatar refrained from direct criticism of Moscow and only condemned the violence.
The changing dynamics of proxy warfare: Obviously, the competition between superpowers of the past, the current conflict is not ideological.
Instead, Russia and Ukraine have come to blows over divergent interpretations of history and visions of the future.
Of course, a rift in national interests has forced Moscow and Kyiv apart, just as geopolitical concerns soured the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union in the post-war period.
‘’The consequences of this war are profound, and the possibility for it to expand into an even larger, more destructive conflict remains all too real.
The war has already had a significant impact on the international relations of Europe and on the prospect for future partnerships available to the belligerents.
The war will also have an impact on the rest of the world, including the Gulf region’’. Iran’s policy: The Russian invasion of Ukraine has had profound consequences for politics across the Middle East, and this is especially true for Russia-Iran relations and security ties.
While Tehran initially accepted Moscow’s rationale for the invasion and attempted to show its political support in the United Nations General Assembly, Iran has remained cautious about fully backing the war, even as it seeks to benefit from resulting trade and security opportunities.
For its part, however, Moscow initially emerged as a spoiler in attempts to revive the so-called Iran nuclear deal.
The Iranian factor, the GCC States & EU: This, of course, places the Gulf states, particularly, the GCC in a predicament, especially given the fact that they made a deal with Russia through OPEC+.
Changing this deal cannot be done abruptly, but rather will depend on developments in Ukraine. At the same time, the GCC States are not the only suppliers of oil and gas.
Iran is also an important energy producer and Brussels may expect Iranian energy products to flow to Europe after Tehran and the P5+1 sign a revamped version of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
However, the big question remains: what price must be paid to allow more Iranian energy exports to Europe, and are European States willing to grant Tehran greater influence in the region?
Apparently, there are already concerns about Iranian support for militias operating in its near abroad.
The revival of the JCPOA would mean the GCC States have to reconsider their security at a time when their oil exports are of the utmost importance.
Kuwait’s role: On one side of the spectrum is Kuwait and its policy—aligning its positions on this war— most closely with Western powers that stand against Moscow.
Recently, when a UNSC resolution blasted Russia for assaulting Ukraine, Kuwait was the only Arab case to be on the list of 80 co-sponsors.
In the same vein, when Russia began its multi-pronged attack, Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry emphasised the importance of defending Ukraine’s territorial dignity and sovereign rights.
As per the latest record, on February 25, the Kuwait Foreign Ministry had released a statement categorically rejecting the use of force or threats thereof in relations between states.
Moreover, it also emphasized the need to respect the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine, thereby affirming— its full support for all international efforts accompanied by de-escalation, restraint— the resolution of international disputes by peaceful means, and the adoption of measures necessary to protecting civilians.
Qatari role: ‘’Following US requests to redirect natural gas to Europe in case of escalation in Ukraine, Qatari Energy Minister Saad al-Kaabi stated on 22 February that his country does not have the capacity to replace Russian gas supplies to the continent.
Following the invasion, Zelensky called Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani; the conversation came two days after Moscow sent Doha a letter about enhancing relations with Russia.
According to Gulf media accounts of the phone exchange with Zelensky, the emir “called on all parties to exercise restraint and resolve the dispute through constructive dialogue and diplomatic methods…and not to take any actions that would lead to further escalation.
” The overall scenario is that all the GCC stakeholders of the Ukraine war hold their policy leverage in the Ukraine war mainly depending their respective official policies—a reflection on neutrality, geopolitical affiliation with the western world, and most importantly, their due concern about the rule of international law with respect to the sovereignty of Ukraine.
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-international law analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.