Ukraine, One Year On: Evaluating the Gulf’s Role
Featured Speakers: Dr. Dania Thafer, Dr. Cinzia Bianco, Dr. Samuel Ramani, and Eugene Chausovsky.
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?