As the Russian invasion of Ukraine approaches its first anniversary, the Gulf states have played a variety of roles in the conflict, both directly and peripherally. By providing drones and missiles to the Russian military, Iran has established itself as the Gulf’s most direct participant in the conflict, and the only country in the region whose leadership has openly sided with the Kremlin. By contrast, all six of the GCC states immediately voted to condemn the invasion at the United Nations General Assembly, and most have provided humanitarian aid to Ukraine over the past year. However, the GCC’s approaches to the conflict have varied by nation; while Kuwait and Qatar have vocally condemned Russia, the other four members of the bloc have preserved relatively cordial ties with Moscow, with the United Arab Emirates in particular emerging as an outlet for Russian finance. Much of the Gulf has continued to cooperate with Russia under the OPEC+ oil alliance, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE have worked to organize prisoner exchanges between the two sides, buying them goodwill in both Moscow and Kyiv and strengthening their soft-power credentials.
Constrained by geopolitical considerations, the Western nations have adopted a nuanced approach toward the Gulf throughout the conflict. In the days following the invasion in February 2022, the United States and the European Union strongly pressured the six GCC states to condemn Russia at the General Assembly. After they did so, the West largely refrained from heavy-handed pressure on the Gulf to comply with sanctions on Moscow. Concurrently, Europe sought to increase its imports of oil and natural gas from the Gulf in order to offset sanctioned Russian hydrocarbons. However, after the OPEC+ decision in late 2022 to cut oil production in order to preserve high prices, a number of Western officials vocally condemned what they perceived as financial opportunism within the GCC states. In the second year of the war, with both the military outcome and its global financial impacts uncertain, the Gulf’s importance in the conflict will only grow.
What factors motivate the Gulf states’ stances on the ongoing war? Why have some GCC nations condemned Russia and supported Ukraine more explicitly than others? How have the GCC states’ relations with Russia changed over the last year? Can Saudi Arabia and the UAE preserve their cordial relations with Moscow if hostilities escalate? How can the West (and Russia) encourage the Gulf nations to adopt a Ukraine policy closer to their interests?
Featured Speakers: Dr. Dania Thafer, Dr. Cinzia Bianco, Dr. Samuel Ramani, and Eugene Chausovsky.
Dr. Dania Thafer
Executive Director, Gulf International Forum
Dr. Dania Thafer is the Executive Director of Gulf International Forum. Her area of expertise is on the Gulf region’s geopolitics, US-Gulf relations, and the political economy of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. She is also a Professorial Lecturer at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University. Dr. Thafer been widely published on matters concerning the Arab Gulf states including several articles and publications. She has co-authored two edited books “The Arms Trade, Military Services and the Security Market in the Gulf States: Trends and Implications” and “The Dilemma of Security and Defense in the Gulf Region.” Dr Thafer has a new book titled Creative Insecurity: Institutional Inertia and Youth Potential in the GCC that will be published by Hurst Co. and Oxford University Press in 2023. Previously, she worked at the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies. Dr. Thafer has a master’s degree in Political Economy from New York University, and PhD specialized in the Political Economy and International Relations of the GCC states from American University in Washington, DC.
Dr. Cinzia Bianco
Visiting Fellow, The European Council on Foreign Relations
Cinzia Bianco is a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, where she is working on political, security and economic developments in the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf region and relations with Europe. Additionally, she is a senior analyst at Gulf State Analytics. Previously, Bianco was a research fellow for the European Commission’s project on EU-GCC relations ‘Sharaka’ between 2013 and 2014.
She holds an MA degree in Middle East and Mediterranean Studies from King’s College London and a PhD in Middle East Politics from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, where she worked on threat perceptions in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) after the 2011 Arab uprisings.
Dr. Samuel Ramani
Associate Fellow, Royal United Service Institute (RUSI); Non-Resident Fellow, Gulf International Forum
Dr Samuel Ramani is a tutor of politics and international relations at the University of Oxford, where he received his doctorate in March 2021.
Dr Ramani is also a geopolitical analyst and commentator, who contributes regularly to media outlets, such as Foreign Policy, the Washington Post, Newsweek, and Al-Monitor, and think tanks, such as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Middle East Institute. He is regularly interviewed on international security issues by the BBC World Service, Al Jazeera English, France-24, and CNN International.
He has briefed the NATO Intelligence Fusion Center, U.S. Department of State, France’s Ministry of Defence, the French Military School Strategic Research Institute (IRSEM) and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, on issues pertaining to Afghanistan, Middle East security, North Korea, and Russian foreign policy. Dr Ramani’s first book on Russia’s foreign policy towards Africa will be published by Oxford University Press and Hurst and Co. in 2022.
Senior Director for Analytical Development and Training, The New Lines Institute
Eugene Chausovsky is the Senior Director for Analytical Development and Training. He oversees the institute’s publication and content production process, manages institutional training efforts, and guides the development of analytical products.
Chausovsky previously served as Senior Eurasia Analyst at the geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor for more than 10 years. His analytical work has focused on political, economic and security issues pertaining to Russia, Eurasia, and China, as well as global connectivity issues related to energy and climate change.
He has contributed articles to a wide range of outlets including Foreign Policy, The National Interest, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Al Jazeera and has given interviews to global media outlets such as BBC, CNBC, Bloomberg, Politico, and CNN. He has served as a speaker at international conferences and as a guest lecturer at universities in the US and abroad. He has also organized crisis simulations and delivered client briefings to numerous international organizations and businesses, including Fortune 500 companies. Chausovsky holds a Masters of International Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and a BA in International Relations from the University of Texas at Austin.