Ukraine, part two. Impact of the Russo-Ukrainian War on the Middle East

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1.The populace  of Middle East ( ME)  along with other parts of the world are feeling the impacts of the war in Europe  on their food security, energy prices and job markets . They are divided between sympathizing with the  Ukrainians devastated by Russian aggression and how the world shied away when the same weapons were used in Syria and Libya few years earlier! In political terms, the crisis has not yet forced any significant realignments.   Rather, various countries including the Gulf and Israel are hedging their bets between the US and Russia and seeking to draw maximum benefits in key areas of interests.  However, long term sanctions on Russia will be challenging for ME countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE , all of whom have been diversifying their defense needs and seeking greater cooperation with Russia and China .

  1. Since the Presidency of Joe Biden, in January 2021, ME leaders have been working to reduce regional tensions by rekindling strained bilateral relations . Turkey for example has opened channels of communication with Egypt, UAE and Israel, there are talks between Qatar and Egypt and between Saudi Arabia and Iran. These governments do not want Russian invasion of Ukraine to invalidate these efforts and start a new wave of polarization. They also do not want Russia to experience a major defeat , which would reinforce American unilateralism and make it difficult for them to diversify their alliances.Meanwhile, the Biden Administration and Arab leaders have conflicting priorities. US is currently focused on deterring and isolating Moscow and is working towards a possible nuclear agreement that might end Iran’s economic isolation. In contrast , Arab governments want Russia to remain strong to help contain Iran’s ambitions to expand its influences over the region .Saudi Arabia and UAE relations with the Biden Administration remain strained , especially as they believe the US did not sufficiently support them over recent Houthi attacks on their territories . This has affected how they have responded to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in particular at UN SC and other world forums .
  2. The Russian invasion of Ukraine also demonstrated the fragility of Russia’s alliance with Turkey and Iran. Due to sanctions imposed on it , Moscow has become more dependent on Turkish and Iranian trade which has caused it to loose its traditional leverage over the two. Israel too is playing a balancing game between US and Russia over Ukraine .After the Israeli government issued a statement supporting the “ territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Ukraine” , Russia condemned the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights . Israel however , did not go as far as Turkey and declined a Ukrainian request to send weapons and military equipment.

4.The worst affected from the Ukraine war will be Syria and Libya , the two arenas where US- Russian collaboration is most needed for a sustainable political outcomes.Russia’s considerable military presence in both countries and its increasing political and economic isolation may drive it to be a disrupter of ongoing efforts to address political divisions in Libya and to be even more supportive of the Syrian and Iranian regimes than it has been in the past.. Meanwhile, both Turkey and Israel are troubled by the prospects of future Russian action in Syria , due to their stakes in these countries. Turkey is concerned that Russia-could increase pressure in the rebel enclave Idlib, triggering an influx of refugees . Syria’sKurdish population concerns are that a US- Turkey trade- off in this larger geopolitical tussle would come at their expense. Israel is worried with growing Russian- Iran cooperation and possible limits on its aerial bombardment of Iranian targets in Syria.

5.. Another areas  of serious concern for the ME nations are humanitarian aid and food security in the region especially related to fragile regional countries. The growing number of Ukrainian refugees and the phenomenal cost of post conflict re construction are raising fears that the critical humanitarian aid may be diverted from ME to address the fall out from the Ukrainian conflicts. For the millions of Palestinians, Lebanese, Yemenis, Syrian and even Iraqis who live in countries affected by conflicts and economic depreciation and increasing humanitarian needs, this would be a shutting down of critical life support . The crisis is also aggravated by the likely food shortages in countries like Lebanon, Egypt which rely on Russia and Ukraine for their wheat supplies in the range of 90%. Food and humanitarian aid shortage could cause severe political crises if the people come to streets in protests.

6.The future of gas and oil supplies is critical . Europe will likely seek to build up alternate gas supplies and therein lies an opportunity for Gulf and Eastern Mediterranean countries. Gulf countries are currently gaining from the increase in oil prices and leveraging this situation to renegotiate their relationship with US on favorable terms in places like Yemen etc. Much remains to be seen in this conflict which has heralded a long term shift in global relations. The traditional alignment of prominent ME countries with US has also suffered a set back because of US lackluster support and aid to Ukraine against the Russian aggression. Even NATO & European Union have been found wanting at the time of need. These factors will cast their influences in Geo- political realignments for many of the ME states in not too distant a future ! What really happens, only time will tell.

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Thualfuqar Center for Strategic Studies, Research and Human Rights .... Thualfuqar center is a private, independent research institution concerned with public affairs in Iraq and the effects of its regional and international environment.

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