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Why do the countries of the Middle East distance themselves from the Russo-Ukrainian war?

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Could this have anything to do with the Abraham deal and the balances that need to be kept with Israel?

By Eleni Vasiliki Bampaliouta

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought about great changes in the international system. And the international community may have condemned the Russian invasion on the other hand, but there is a “distancing policy” from the big Arab countries and the countries of the Middle East. They avoid themselves taking a stand and participating in the Western sanctions campaign imposed on Russia. The reasons are clearly economic and geopolitical.

In the last two years, the “Abraham Agreement” has brought about general developments in the Arab world at key points, especially in the normalization of the relations between the Arab countries and Israel. On the other hand, President Biden has focused America’s strategic interest in the Pacific, with a corresponding reduction in its involvement in the Middle East and the Gulf.

Arab countries are trying to find balances, new friendships and alliances in order to face the security threats they face, which are worsening after the US withdraws from the region. A conflict in Ukraine that will leave the US victorious and Russia defeated is expected to have consequences for this more autonomous course that the Arab countries want to have, as they will face all-powerful world power, the US.

The countries of the region are not in favor of Russia but more in favor of a multipolar international system and for this reason they initially chose the tactic of so-called “creative neutrality”. In the UN vote, they all agreed with the condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, although this does not mean, of course, that they still do not have a balance with Russia. In this conflict, the United States is clearly pursuing a strategic halt and defeating Russia. But they do not hide their desire to advance the Iran nuclear deal, which would lead to the cessation of economic sanctions against Tehran and at the same time the provision of oil and gas, which could meet the needs arising from the effort to reduce Russian exports. The Gulf states, on the other hand, would like to maintain a strong Russia that works as a counterweight to Iran, and also see rising oil and gas prices (for the time being for lack of other alternatives) as the only opportunity to boost their revenues. .

Both Saudi Arabia (because of Kasogi’s assassination) and the UAE consider that the US has not provided them with the necessary support in the face of the Houthi threat in Yemen and that the US is not consistent in its commitment to security guarantees. And of course they are suspicious of Washington’s critical stance on democracy and rights, which could be directed directly against monarchies. The UAE in particular has viewed with suspicion the strengthening of Washington’s relations with Qatar and the discussion of an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program.

But for the UAE there is another important factor, as in recent years they have attracted Russian funds and now Russian oligarchs are seeking safe haven in Dubai.
Israel, which has traditionally maintained good relations with Moscow and President Putin, sees Washington as a “red line” in its efforts to advance the deal with Iran, but has received other messages from Moscow. On the day that Israel condemned the invasion of Ukraine, Moscow hastened to condemn the occupation of the Golan Heights. The Israeli Armed Forces have also secured military cooperation with Moscow that allows them to conduct operations in Syrian airspace, usually targeting groups or bases of pro-Iranian forces that pose a serious threat to Israel’s security.

Egypt, despite increasingly close defense cooperation with the United States, maintains traditionally close ties with Moscow and a country that is dependent on the import of grain from Russia, on which the internal social peace, the discreet attitude of not severing relations with Russia is the only, albeit obligatory, option.
The big nightmare for the Middle East and North Africa is also the consequences of the Ukrainian crisis in the food sector, as large shortages of food and especially cereals are very likely (Egypt imports from Russia and Ukraine 85% of its needs in cereals).

Rising fuel and energy prices and food shortages are the “recipe” for social tensions and explosions in an environment that is particularly sensitive and still has vivid memories of the Arab Spring.

Article information source:, TIME, Al Lazeera

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