The Russian president Vladimir Putin stated recently that he didn’t expect Saudi Arabia, which has “very kind relations” with Russia, would choose to cut prices that could also damage their own economy. Regardless of the motives that prompted President Putin to speak in this direction, he was in fact pressing the right buttons regarding Saudi Arabia’s position.
Putin’s comments came amid calls and suggestions in several Western capitals urging Saudi Arabia and Qatar to use oil and gas as a weapon to put pressure on Russia in order to extract political concessions from Moscow. Despite the fact that Saudi Arabia has not responded to these calls, the ambiguity of Riyadh’s position is not in the interest of the kingdom. Saudi Arabia must announce its position very clearly that it has nothing to do with the Ukrainian conflict, and it will not use oil as a weapon against Russia regardless of their political differences with Moscow over Syria and Iran.
Oil is not a weapon
It should be said here that these calls by some voices in the West are characterized by “political insolence” as if Arab capitals are acting on there behaviour. In my view, whatever the political differences between Moscow and the Arab states, Russia is not considered as a strategic enemy. In fact there are a lot of common interests that bind the Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia with Moscow. Those who are demanding Saudi Arabia to use the oil as a weapon against Russia; in the fact they are hypocrites. They are the same ones who are “celebrating” today the prediction of the future “demise” of OPEC and the Middle East and Saudi Arabia’s dominance in the world oil markets as a result of the shale boom production in the United States.
The threat to use oil as a weapon against Russia is not strategically in the interest of Saudi ArabiaDr. Naser al-Tamimi
To be sure, the threat to use oil as a weapon against Russia is not strategically in the interest of Saudi Arabia. Over the past two decades, the Kingdom has played a pivotal role in the stability of global oil markets, which still gives Riyadh a vital geopolitical leverage in the world stage. Most importantly, Saudi Arabia fully gained the credibility as a reliable supplier (especially in Asia). This policy should continue without any ambiguity. Riyadh must be neutral in the conflict between the West and Russia over Ukraine. Any hint coming from the GCC states of using the energy as a weapon against Russia could without any doubts damage the credibility of Saudi Arabia in Asia over the medium and long term. Indeed, Saudi Arabia worked very hard to establish strong relationships with Asian countries, especially China and India, based on trust and mutual respect. These strategic relations must be strengthened and not sow the seeds of doubt around them because of the Ukrainian conflict.
There is also another important point regarding using energy as a weapon against Russia. The position of the West has sent a disturbing message to Beijing that they could use energy as a political weapon against China in the future if there was any deterioration in the relations between the two sides. This situation will definitely increase China’s fears and probably push Beijing to deepen its energy cooperation with Moscow and other regions at the expense of the Gulf States. It is very important for Saudi Arabia to send a clear message that the kingdom is not taking sides in the Ukrainian conflict, and it will continue to be a reliable source of oil supplies, regardless of political differences.
It should also be emphasized that although there are some areas of contention between the GCC countries and Moscow which still persist, Russia ultimately is not an enemy of Saudi Arabia. Indeed, it is in the interest of Riyadh to keep all of it’s options open with Moscow and work towards a mutual strategic understanding to continue to build good relations with Russia in the future.
Dr. Naser al-Tamimi is a UK-based Middle East analyst, and author of the forthcoming book “China-Saudi Arabia Relations, 1990-2012: Marriage of Convenience or Strategic Alliance?” He is an Al Arabiya regular contributor, with a particular interest in energy politics, the political economy of the Gulf, and Middle East-Asia relations. The writer can be reached at: Twitter: @nasertamimi and email: email@example.com
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