Gulf states have perfect opportunity to boost ties with the Caucasus
Since the second century B.C., when the Silk Route passed across the northern and southern territories of the Greater Caucasus, this region has played a fundamental role in connecting the Black Sea coast with China and the Near East and the Middle East with Europe. During the Cold War and due to the Soviet iron curtain, the region’s significance was adversely impacted. However, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, geopolitical and macroeconomic considerations have played a critical role in shaping the Caucasus, along with the region’s vast economic resources. The region has quickly turned into a center of geopolitical competition, with competing powers vying for greater influence for geopolitical and economic reasons.
Given its proximity to the Middle East, the Caucasus is of particular importance. This article will specifically look at its relations with the Gulf states. These two regions have a lot in common, as, for example, both are resource-rich, situated in important geopolitical locations and have religion as a common denominator that binds their peoples. In addition, the prominence of both regions on the international chessboard has grown since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which disrupted global energy and food supplies. This conflict has created new opportunities and possibilities for the Caucasus and the Gulf to increase their own development and prosperity through forging closer collaborations.
Since the mid-1990s, Saudi Arabia has looked to the Caucasus region as an important market and has ramped up its economic ties there. For example, the Kingdom has boosted its investments in Azerbaijan and there are ample opportunities to further increase the trade volume between the two countries.
In June, Saudi Deputy Minister of Investment and co-chairman of the Saudi Arabia-Azerbaijan Joint Business Council Ahmed Ali Al-Dakhil met with Azerbaijani Finance Minister Samir Sharifov. Al-Dakhil spoke of expanding economic relations and Sharifov invited Saudi business circles to take an active part in the reconstruction and construction work being carried out in Azerbaijan’s Karabakh and East Zangezur regions.
Baku’s agricultural products have found a place in Emirati and Qatari markets, with both viewing Azerbaijan as an important source of food security, which has spurred economic collaboration.
Meanwhile, the trade volume between the UAE and Armenia has grown to more than $1 billion and non-oil trade has increased by 110 percent. Georgia has also seen its ties with the Gulf states improve, with its trade exchanges increasing with the UAE in particular. Qatari companies have looked to invest in the country’s real estate market. In 2022, Georgia and Saudi Arabia agreed on a number of matters related to the economy, energy and security, marking the end of the Georgian prime minister’s visit to Riyadh.
It is important not to forget that parts of southern Russia are also considered to be part of the Caucasus region. The Gulf’s relations with Russia have vastly improved recently, spurred by a lack of satisfaction with America’s regional security architecture. The Gulf feels its voice continues to be overlooked and its interests not considered when Washington devises policies or strategies for the region.
The prominence of both regions on the international chessboard has grown since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
Given this context, it is not surprising to see the Gulf states move closer to Russia to seek their national interests and develop an independent foreign policy trajectory, as evidenced by their neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine war despite Western pressure aimed at forcing them to align behind Ukraine. Russia views the Gulf as an important region, a potential corridor to Asia, and relations have grown fast with Saudi Arabia under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has taken bold decisions to invest in Russia despite Western pressure and to broaden the scope of collaboration with Moscow. In addition, the UAE and Russia have seen an acceleration in their relations and, during a meeting between their respective presidents in June, both reaffirmed their intentions to expand collaboration in several areas.
Given the aforementioned developments, Gulf-Caucasus relations have huge potential. The following steps and initiatives need to be taken to avail the opportunities and possibilities that exist.
One is economic cooperation. Both regions can strengthen their economic ties by enhancing existing trade routes and establishing new ones for transportation, energy and communication networks.
Secondly, cultural exchanges are needed. Promoting cultural exchange programs, academic collaborations and people-to-people contacts can help to foster understanding and goodwill between the two regions.
Political dialogue should be a third aim. Regular meetings and forums involving political leaders, diplomats, think tankers and policymakers from both regions can facilitate constructive dialogue and promote trust.
Fourth is security cooperation. By working together on combating terrorism, transnational crime and border security, the two regions can jointly address such threats by developing shared approaches. This can start with joint training exercises and collaboration in counterterrorism efforts.
Last up is membership of multilateral and regional organizations. Engaging in these can help to foster dialogue and collaborations on shared challenges. Both the Caucasus and the Gulf states can benefit from participating in existing organizations, such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and through establishing new ones tailored to their specific needs and interests.
In conclusion, the Caucasus and the Gulf can strengthen their relationship and take it to another level by carrying out these steps and initiatives, with both likely to benefit and contribute to growth and prosperity at national and regional levels. In addition, the present geopolitical situation, particularly regarding the Ukraine war and the international isolation of Russia, provides space for the Gulf and the Caucasus to forge closer relations.
• Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah).