Photo: Anton Balazh, Adobe Stock

Russia’s War of Aggression – Where the Middle Eastern Countries Stand

At the first meeting of Arab leaders in a long time, Algeria would have liked to welcome Syria back. But the wish of the Russian protecting power met with resistance. How are the Arab states currently looking at Moscow? By Cindy Riechau

Photo: Anton Balazh, Adobe Stock

Algiers (dpa) – The Arab world has so far held back on criticism of Russia and its war of aggression against Ukraine. But a dispute within the Arab League, which met for a summit on Tuesday and Wednesday for the first time in three and a half years, reveals that attitudes towards Russia are not necessarily so neutral among all members. Host Algeria had called for Moscow’s ally Syria to re-join its ranks ahead of the meeting of Arab leaders. But the initiative failed due to opposition from some countries.

“This is a blow to Russia’s diplomatic strategy, which has invested considerable resources to prove that it is a reliable partner for Arab countries,” writes French geopolitician Pierre Boussel in an article published by the US think tank Carnegie. The war in Ukraine had “shown that Moscow is not the ally it claims to be.”

The Arab League had suspended Syria’s membership eleven years ago because of its brutal civil war. The reinstatement was an explicit request from Syria’s patron Russia. Qatar, Egypt and Saudi Arabia were opposed. Riyadh justified its veto by saying that a plan drawn up by the League to end the war in Syria had not been implemented. However, the fact that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman stayed away from the summit in Algiers was interpreted by some observers as a push before addressing the real reasons. According to official sources, doctors advised the de facto ruler of the Gulf state not to attend.

Riyadh’s attitude towards Russia, meanwhile, is difficult to understand. The kingdom agreed to cut oil production. The USA interpreted the move as support for Russia’s war of aggression, as Saudi Arabia and Russia are considered the leading forces in the Opec+ oil alliance. Riyadh claimed that the reasons for the decision were “purely economic.” Then, a fortnight ago, the Gulf state pledged millions in humanitarian aid to Ukraine. At a UN General Assembly, the Kingdom – like almost all other Arab countries, by the way – voted in favour of a resolution condemning Russia’s annexations in Ukraine, which violate international law.

Only Syria’s government, which thanks to Moscow’s help in the civil war again controls around two thirds of the country, voted against.

Boussels, an expert on Islam, sees relations between Moscow and the Middle East strained above all because of the economic impact of Russia’s war of aggression. Ukraine is, for example, the most important supplier of grain for many Arab countries. “These economies have never been so weakened,” he told dpa. According to the IMF, more than 140 million people in the region are at risk of food insecurity. The issue is also on the summit agenda.

However, the fact that the USA is withdrawing more and more from the region strengthens many Arab countries in their restraint. They want to avoid conflicts with other major powers and thus further economic upheavals. For the Arab populations, moreover, the wars in Yemen, Syria and Libya are much closer.

Russia’s use of Iranian combat drones in Ukraine, however, is likely to worry the Gulf states in particular, which see Iran as an existential threat. The USA also currently fears Iranian attacks on Saudi Arabia’s territory. The growing military cooperation between Moscow and Tehran could therefore possibly soon force the Gulf monarchy to adopt a clearer stance.

At the start of the summit, Moscow sent warm words to the 22 member states: Cooperation between Russia and them contributes to peace in the world.

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