In the new reality, by its blunt intervention in Russia’s special operation in Ukraine expressed not only in political support, but also in supplying weapons for the Kiev’s nazi authorities, the Biden administration has already begun to develop and deploy its new global strategy. Apparently, this strategy is based around creating tough competition with other world super powers, primarily with China and Russia, focusing on the military repositioning of troops and weapons to create massive containment along the borders of these competing powers. Particular attention is paid to resuming old US alliances or establishing the new ones. By implementing this strategy, Washington seeks to win global disputes with rival powers and strengthen relations with its allies.
In this regard, the Ukrainian crisis has become a litmus test for the new US strategy and its various options. Today’s US political community, for the most part, supports the current administration, and President Joe Biden is doing his best, however, so far unsuccessfully, to knit the society together in its attitude to the Ukrainian crisis, making it an exceptional direction in his policy. The Biden administration has applied an approach which is based on the concept of “coordination and cooperation,” or rather on plainly issuing commands to Europe and supplying modern weapons to Ukraine to fight to the “last Ukrainian,” so as to allow the US military and industrial complex to receive new unprecedentedly high profits. The confirmation of this position can be found in the statement by a retired senior American diplomat Chas Freeman, who said that in Ukraine the United States is waging an undeclared war against Russia in order to keep the US global hegemony. He believes that blatant actions by the US authorities left the Kremlin no choice but to start a special operation to defeat the Ukrainian neo-Nazi forces established and armed by Washington. His exact words describing the situation were that the United States will fight Russia “to the last Ukrainian.”
However, what the crisis has resulted in for the transatlantic relations is completely and utterly different from its consequences for the Middle East and the entire Muslim world. The Ukraine crisis has revealed numerous controversies between the US and its Muslim allies. The Islamic states do not want to spoil their relations with Russia despite unprecedented pressure from the West, and at the same time, the large-scale anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the EU and the United States offer great opportunities for cooperation between Moscow and Arab states. One of the latest examples confirming this statement is the results of the recent vote on exclusion of the Russian Federation from the UN Human Rights Council, initiated by Western nations and the United States. One hundred countries supported Russia’s position: some abstained from voting, others voted against the exclusion, and the rest did not participate in the vote. Among those countries who supported Moscow were many Islamic states, including Iran, Sudan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and many others.
Sanctions imposed by western nations against Russia offer plenty of opportunities for cooperation with Arab states – from arms trading to migration of IT specialists. At least for this reason, the Islamic countries are not willing to quarrel with Moscow, as they have enough pragmatism and are well aware of the prospects for enhancing relations with Russia, even in the context another hysterical outbreak of Russophobic attacks by the West. In addition, Russia has sustainable trade relations with China, Brazil, India, Arab and African countries, and the rise in oil and gas prices caused by Western sanctions gives Russia a constant influx of foreign currency. At the same time, Russia, Brazil, India, China, South Africa, as well as a number of other countries are already working on developing the financial systems which would be equivalent to Western financial systems yet independent from the United States, in particular the SWIFT equivalent, said Anton Siluanov, Russia’s Minister of Finance. It is also planned to establish an independent rating agency, to integrate payment systems and to use national currencies for export and import operations.
All this is an evidence that the United States made a mistake in its expansionist plans and failed to obtain the necessary support from the regional powers that had previously supported Washington and significantly contributed to the US global dominance. The blatant disrespect to its regional allies has been especially obvious since the United States changed its vision of the position and role of the Persian Gulf states in the US global strategy. This became even more evident when Joe Biden took office as the President in January 2021, and especially after the dishonorable and urgent withdrawal of American occupation troops from Afghanistan, which made the United States look like a country easily betraying its former allies.
In the opinion of many Arab politicians, Biden’s administration is ready to make major concessions to Iran in relation to its nuclear program, despite the fact that the nuclear deal in 2015 was concluded at the expense of the Persian Gulf countries. Instead of restraining Iran’s ambitions, this step, as Arab countries think, will increase Iran’s regional role and military potential. This comes as an addition to Washington’s recent refusal to enter the Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels to the list of terroristic organizations, despite the fact that the UN Security Council called the group “terrorist” and despite the increased activity of the Houthis against a number of Gulf states aiming to protect Yemen. The Biden administration also sought to some extent to prevent deals with supplying modern weapons for Saudi Arabia and the UAE, although they were reliable allies of Washington until recently, and their orders for the US military and industrial complex were a source of incredible profit.
The Ukrainian crisis exposed the widening gap between the United States and the Gulf states, when a number of these states began to move away from the alliance with Washington, having realized that in the current situation they have only themselves to rely on. The manifestation of this fact, first of all, was the refusal to accept the current policy of the Biden administration by the Persian Gulf states, especially by the two regional leaders – Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In particular, this was expressed in the reluctance demonstrated by these two countries to surrender to Washington’s pressure to join the Western Alliance against Russia and increase oil production to meet the US requirements and again to respect the interests of the West.
Contrary to the US assumptions and expectations after the start of the Russian special operation, the Persian Gulf countries have not taken the position of a complete support for the current US leadership, who are doing their utmost to tighten the noose around Russia’s economy. Washington’s aggressive policy works well, at least for now, on the weak-willed and conformable European politicians, which does not apply to the Persian Gulf states. In the UN Security Council, the UAE refused to express its condemnation of Russia’s special operation, and Saudi Arabia refrained from supporting Biden’s request to increase oil production. These positions of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates show that they prefer to remain neutral in the relations between Russia, the US and Europe. Saudi Arabia and the UAE naturally stick to their current political positions not just to please Russia, but in response to Washington’s rude and disrespectful attitude to the Persian Gulf countries, when their interest is not taken into account, and when the Biden administration expects them to automatically adjust their foreign policies to comply with the US demands, even if that goes against their national interests.
In general, recent events prove once again that the Gulf States continue to be a very important player on the international stage. Their role is based not only on their energy resources — although the current panic about finding the best replacement to Russian oil and gas demonstrates how wrong the belief that their resources (oil, gas) no longer matter was. The current situation has clearly demonstrated how ill-conceived and arrogant the assumption of the United States and the general West was when they believed that it was them who would always resolve all the regional disputes. The Gulf states have shown that they are still particularly important players, as their leaders are engaged in ambitious development projects and are seeking to protect their national interests and the security of their population. They are not ready to completely obey the influence of Western powers and let themselves be mere pawns in US games. In this new situation, the US must either abandon its plan to provoke potentially catastrophic regional competition, or prepare for the emergence of a new Middle East in which the Gulf states will focus on their own strategic independence without taking into account the US interests.
This moment of reckoning came when the Ukrainian crisis highlighted the ever-increasing status of the Persian Gulf states as a powerful counterbalance to US and European hegemony in terms of energy resources and the stability of global markets. The temporarily unstable period also shows that the Gulf states have different options when it comes to foreign policy and their relations with the world superpowers. The Gulf states will not allow the United States to capture their resources and to bring to zero their future opportunities in order to serve and benefit the US interests, cynically exploiting them and their resources and leaving them without support whenever the West so pleases. Today, the Gulf states are able and eager to influence the global strategies so as to protect their own interests, regardless of the status of cooperation with the United States and the rest of the West.
Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.