Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Western nations that support Kyiv have a tendency to discuss the conflict in black-and-white terms with little consideration for nations that stand between the West and Moscow. Support for Ukraine is framed by US leadership as a question of safeguarding a rules-based world order that is being challenged by rogue authoritarians.
However, this Manichean story is often disregarded in Arab nations. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations mostly see the situation in Ukraine as a complex European dispute that does not call for Arab nations to oppose Vladimir Putin’s administration.
Arab politicians do not want to weaken ties with Moscow because of this crisis, despite the fact that no Arab country has openly backed Russia’s invasion, occupation, and annexation of Ukrainian territory.
Arab politicians do not think their nations should weaken ties with Moscow because of this crisis, despite the fact that no Arab country has openly backed Russia’s invasion, occupation, and annexation of Ukrainian territory. As a result, although the GCC countries have mainly backed UNGA resolutions denouncing Russia’s actions in Ukraine, none of them have joined Western powers in putting sanctions or other restrictive measures against Moscow in place.
Some observers predict that the Saudis would resist Western pressure to side with Moscow as the conflict in Ukraine approaches another year. The kingdom is using this conflict to convey a message to the US that Saudi Arabia is not Washington’s vassal state and that preserving relative neutrality promotes Saudi interests.
Saudis have made clear that their objectives have been centered on preserving solid ties with their primary security partner, the US; their top economic partner, China; and their important partner in OPEC+, Russia.
According to Gerald Feierstein, a former US ambassador to Yemen, the Saudis have emphasized in recent years that they want to avoid being involved in what is known as “great power rivalry” in the US. The Saudis have made it plain that their objectives have been centered on preserving solid ties with their primary security partner, the US; their top economic partner, China; and their important partner in OPEC+, Russia.
Since Russia sent soldiers into neighboring Ukraine, Riyadh has continued to cooperate with Russia. In fact, just as the West was sanctioning these Russian energy titans at the outset of the conflict, Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Holding Co bought at least $500 million in Gazprom, Rosneft, and Lukoil. More recently, on October 5, the OPEC+ cartel headed by Saudi Arabia and Russia revealed its intentions to lower oil output.
Saudi Arabia professed that its financial and commercial interests, as well as market stability, were the only factors considered in making a choice to not openly condemn the Russian actions in Ukrain.
Saudi Arabia claims that its financial and commercial interests, as well as market stability, were the only factors considered in making a choice. Meanwhile, officials in Washington were enraged by the revelation because they thought the OPEC+ decision would help Russia fend off US and European sanctions and thwart Western attempts to isolate Putin’s regime. There was no question that Riyadh needed friendly connections with Moscow to coordinate oil output and continue a fruitful engagement with Russia over its actions against Iran.
Saudi authorities were keen to maintain the price of oil, mostly to pay a number of domestic development projects that unified OPEC+ agreements could fund only and maintain communication channels for discussing other concerns. Even if it is based on expediency and opportunism, Saudi Arabia’s continued increasing ties with Russia will increase tensions between Riyadh and Washington. Saudi Arabia’s reputation and image in Washington have suffered, especially in the wake of the most recent event at OPEC+, as seen by the heated language from US politicians about downgrading Washington’s security partnership with Riyadh and backing for the so-called “NOPEC” legislation.
Saudi Arabia’s continued increasing ties with Russia will increase tensions between Riyadh and Washington. Saudi Arabia’s reputation and image in Washington have suffered.
It will be difficult for Saudi Arabia to retain ties with both the US and Russia as the East-West split and great power rivalry intensify. However, Riyadh has made it clear that it will continue to work toward this challenging objective, which calls for carefully managing the globe’s evolving geopolitical environment. Saudi Arabia has continued to cooperate with Russia in energy, investment, and other sectors, but as it seeks to establish itself as a helpful mediator, Saudi Arabia has exhibited varying degrees of support for Ukraine.
Saudi Arabia and Turkey were crucial in helping to facilitate a prisoner exchange between Kyiv and Moscow in September, which led to the release of several Western people (including two US citizens) who had been arrested while fighting for Ukraine. This action aided Saudi Arabia in convincing the US and Europe that its position in the fight served Western interests rather than being detrimental to them.
Saudi humanitarian help is no more than a show of goodwill to alleviate the US concerns at its rage at the OPEC+ decision with Russia. Riyadh has said that it always supported peaceful conflict resolution but it refrained from overtly condemning the invasion of Ukraine.
In an attempt to strengthen Western perceptions of Riyadh’s neutrality in the crisis, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) promised to provide $400 million in non-lethal help to the war-torn nation. It is difficult to consider the Saudi humanitarian help as anything more than a show of goodwill when US rage at the OPEC+ decision started to surface. Although Riyadh has said that it always supported peaceful conflict resolution, it refrained from overtly condemning the invasion of Ukraine. Now, Ukraine does welcome the assistance announcement, but it is difficult to separate it from the animosity around the oil cut decision.
There are currently no indications that the fighting in Ukraine will end soon. The worldwide repercussions are alarming, particularly considering the threats to food security and the potential use of nuclear weapons in the battle.
Sidrah Zaman, Researcher at the University of Siena, Italy.