Dimensions, Prospects of UAE-Saudi Rivalry in Ukraine Crisis

2023/08/28 | interview, political, top news

Strategic Council Online - Interview: An analyst of international affairs considered the competition between the UAE and Saudi Arabia regarding mediation to solve the Ukraine crisis as part of the competitive strategy of the two countries in different political, economic, and geopolitical fields with the aim of expanding influence and creating soft power in the region and the world, especially in the centers of international power, and said: Saudi Arabia has more weight and leverage to play such a role in this framework.

Speaking in an interview with the website of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, Saber Gol Anbari noted: Since about a decade ago, with the rise of Mohammed bin Salman to power, the rivalry between the princes in the sheikhdoms of the region intensified; a competition that gradually increased in recent years. The crisis with Qatar and its three-year siege, before it was caused by the differences and tensions caused by the conflict of views and interests during the Arab Spring, was the product of this competition, which took on the aspect of personal enmity between the princes.

Recalling that during the era of Sheikh Hamad and his son Sheikh Tamim, Qatar became an economic and media power, a political player, and an important role-player in the region and gained increasing influence in the centers of global power, he explained: This position of Qatar was very unpleasant for the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

The expert on international issues stated that the end of the crisis with Qatar at the “Al Ula” reconciliation meeting of Saudi Arabia in January 2021 triggered a kind of tension between bin Salman and bin Zayed and continued: Even though the UAE, considering this issue, still was not inclined towards this reconciliation, Bin Salman took this policy as a way out in facing the global consequences of Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination. Of course, there were other reasons and motivations.

Gol Anbari pointed to the increased tension between the UAE and Saudi Arabia in the past two years under the influence of a series of other factors, such as the differences in the Yemen case, the macro-economic competition between the two sides, and Bin Salman’s ambitious plans, some of which actually affected the position of the UAE as the hub of trade in the region as one of those factors and added: Parallel to the intensification of competition and tension, areas of cooperation also decreased to some extent, and this issue itself became more evident. For example, in the past decade, the developments of the Arab Spring and the UAE and Saudi Arabia’s concern about it and their enmity with the revolutions and with Qatar led to extensive cooperation between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to ward off those common threats, which with the domino fall of the Arab revolutions and other Islamic political movements this field of cooperation faded away.

He said: In the context of this tense competition, we are also witnessing a kind of diplomatic competition between the two countries, which has different dimensions and forms, from holding bilateral and multilateral meetings with different countries and regional and international organizations to mediation and role-playing in important regional and international cases, including the Ukraine war case.

The analyst of international issues emphasized that it is not the case that competition is the only component of policy making in those countries, and explained: Those countries advance their plans and macro policies in various fields according to their capacities and opportunities, and competition is only one of the drivers. It goes without saying that the economic development and the increasing foreign role-playing of the triangle of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE are, in a way, the result of such competitions, which have sometimes taken on tense forms.

Gol Anbari named the UAE and Saudi Arabia as two countries that benefited more from this international situation after the start of the Ukraine war and said: Apart from the immense profits of those countries due to the increase in the global price of oil at times in the past two years, UAE has benefited the most economically from this war. On the one hand, it has not joined the Western sanctions against Russia. On the other hand, it has become the destination of Russian millionaires, capitalists, and businessmen, who have transferred most of their business to the UAE. In this context, Saudi Arabia has not benefited as much as the UAE.

Saying that this case has become a competitive arena between Saudi Arabia and the UAE to present their soft capacities and capabilities and to strengthen them, considering the creation of a kind of balance, especially in recent years in relations with the East and the West, he clarified: Last February after the United Arab Emirates managed to conclude the exchange agreement of 200 prisoners between the two sides in a mediation hosted by two Ukrainian and Russian delegations, Saudi Arabia also concluded the exchange of prisoners between them in a similar mediation in September. But more importantly, the two sides are trying to mediate to start a diplomatic process between Russia and Ukraine.

Gol Anbari pointed to the UAE ruler’s announcement of readiness to mediate in the Ukraine war during his visit to St. Petersburg last June and his meeting with Putin and added: A more serious effort in this field, which also brings with it a kind of satisfaction from the Western bloc, is going on from Saudi Arabia and holding the recent meeting of Ukraine peace talks with the participation of more than 40 countries, without inviting Russia, proves this claim. Of course, the competition in this case has been extended to the media supporting both sides, and we have seen criticism and attacks in the Western and regional media close to the UAE against the Jeddah meeting.

The expert on international affairs, reminding that the weight of Saudi Arabia’s capacities and levers is heavier in this case, added: Saudi Arabia for various reasons such as its more important position in the Arab and Islamic world as well as the international economy as the largest exporter of oil and having more soft influence and power in the Western power centers, has the more maneuvering and mobilization power to gain regional and international support for the mediation initiative in this sensitive case. Although such mediation cases are currently in their first stages, it is unlikely that anything special will happen in the near future.

He said: Assuming that this war will end through mediation in different ways, not as a result of direct negotiations between the US and Russia, the chances of players like Saudi Arabia and Turkey in this mediation are higher. A player from the Western bloc involved in the war cannot be in the position of mediation. The West does not like China’s mediation, and South Africa and the African Union do not have enough potential and soft power to advance their initiative.

Gol Anbari stated that considering the number of cases discussed between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and at the top of them is the normalization of relations between Riyadh and Tel Aviv; it is not unlikely that Washington will support the mediation and hosting of Saudi Arabia in the Ukraine war case, adding: On the other hand, it is unlikely that Russia will also oppose the possible mediating role of Saudi Arabia in the future.

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