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Why Arabs Bolster Energy & Security Cooperation With Russia in Defiance of Western Sanctions

By Ekaterina Blinova – Samizdat – 19.01.2023

Arab countries have not joined the anti-Russian sanctions, despite pressure from the West, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed during his press conference this week. What’s behind the Arab world’s resilience?

“The policy of the West in the East has gone bankrupt,” political analyst Vladimir Ahmedov told Sputnik.

“[Middle Eastern players’] trust in the United States, the leading western European states – the former colonizers who had colonies in this region – has already been largely lost,” the specialist in the modern history of Arab countries and senior research fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences continued.

New major players have entered the global arena: China, India, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, the scholar emphasized.

Ahmedov believes that the sanctions imposed against Russia are dictated by purely political considerations of a narrow circle of the western political elite. Meanwhile, the system of international relations and the world order has been undergoing changes, and the indirect proof of this is the position taken by the Arab countries, according to him.

“Russia’s policy in the East at the present time, and Russia’s policy in the world in general, has changed in comparison with the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s,” the researcher continued. “Now it is a resolute policy aimed at defending [Russia’s] national state interests and the national interests of third countries. It impresses the countries of the East and, above all, the countries of the Middle East, which have been waiting for such a policy for a long time. This policy is in great demand in the East and therefore it meets with approval and understanding.”

In light of this, Russia’s efforts to mediate the Israeli-Palestine conflict as well as those in Syria and Iraq – mentioned by Lavrov during his Wednesday presser – are steps in the right direction, according to the scholar. In addition, Russia’s military presence in Syria serves as a stabilizing factor, he added.

Meanwhile, the West’s Ukraine strategy looks like nothing so much as its previous Middle Eastern policies. The West is using Ukrainians much in exactly the same way it previously used Arabs in order to reach its geopolitical objectives, and Middle Eastern players are well-aware of that, according to the researcher.

“Russia is not fighting against Ukraine or the fraternal Ukrainian people, but against the West, which wants to dismember Russia, belittle its role, minimize it, and so on,” Ahmedov said. “And [the Western policy] does not meet with any approval from the political elites of the East, who themselves suffered from it previously.”

Opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa

“The region of the Middle East and the Arab world in general is of tremendous importance in the world system in terms of geography, demography, a powerful energy market, the world’s oil and gas pantry and as a very important transport artery. Therefore the attention to this region will only grow,” Ahmedov emphasized.

The region develops its position by becoming an influential energy actor, echoed Ramy El Kalyouby, a visiting lecturer at the School of Orientalism of the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE).

“Gulf countries profited a lot from oil prices increase, and at some moment the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s oil revenues jumped to more than $1 billion daily,” El Kalyouby told Sputnik. “Egypt is also getting its chance to become an important gas supplier to the EU after discovering a few huge fields in the Mediterranean.

The academic singled out Egypt, the world’s biggest wheat importer. According to El Kalyouby, Russia can help Cairo replace a deficit of Ukrainian wheat, open its markets for Egyptian fruits and vegetables, and provide more tourists.

“There is also a project of a Russian industrial zone in Egypt that would help Russia to get around sanctions by changing the origin of products, and also to profit from the African Union free trade zone,” the lecturer highlighted.

Last year, the construction of Egypt’s first nuclear power plant was launched on July 20 in El Dabaa, Matrouh Governorate, by Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom.

The El Dabaa NPP is meant to be the cornerstone of Egypt’s energy diversification policy, allowing Cairo not only to cover its own electricity needs, but also to provide energy to its neighbors. On November 19, the main construction phase for Unit 2 of the NPP began in the northern African country.

“Gulf countries could cooperate with Russia in the regulation of the oil market, although this becomes more difficult, as Russia provides important reductions on Urals oil,” El Kalyouby continued, adding that “Russia also remains a key actor in Syria as a mediator between Damascus and Ankara.”

Regional Security

Nonetheless, the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region is continuing to suffer from local conflicts stemming from the bitter consequences of the Arab Spring, according to Ahmedov. The scientist noted that the reformatting of political systems of these countries is still going on while the common regional security system has not been formed yet.

Russia shares the same “geopolitical space” with the countries of the region and its objectives there include not only maintaining working ties with Middle Eastern players but also to protect its “soft underbelly” from extremist and terrorist elements reinvigorated by the Arab Spring havoc, the researcher explained.

In addition, Russia’s experience as a power broker in the region could come in handy for the West, since the latter has proven incapable of solving regional conflicts on its own, continued the scientist. According to him, European countries have no other alternative but to deal with Russia in the Middle East in the future if they want to ensure their security in the Mediterranean and Southern Europe.

Ahmedov noted that while Moscow cannot ensure a complete comprehensive settlement and stabilization of the situation in the Middle East, it can help regional players reach these goals.

“Russia can make a certain contribution to ensuring the system of regional security with the participation of other states,” he said. “We have excellent relations with Iran. And in this regard, of course, the Arab countries are interested in Russia in terms of softening the Iranian policy towards the Arab countries, which causes concern today in the Arab world. We have excellent relations with Turkey, which also plays a very important role as a major regional actor or player in this region, just like Iran. And therefore, in this case, we have a lot of advantages that we can realize. We have long-standing ties with Palestine since Soviet times. And therefore, in this case, we have a lot of advantages that we can realize.”

Russia has a long and successful record of work in the region, according to the scientist: in the 1960-1980s the USSR provided the primary industrialization of many MENA countries, including Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Algeria, Sudan, and Yemen. While developing ties with the region, Russia can build upon its expertise and best practices of the past, Ahmedov concluded.

January 19, 2023 - Posted by | Economics | , , , , , , , ,

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