Geopolitical shifts help advance Russia-GCC ties

Geopolitical shifts help advance Russia-GCC ties

Geopolitical shifts help advance Russia-GCC ties
Russian FM Sergei Lavrov meets with FMs from the GCC member states in Moscow on July 10, 2023. (AFP)
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The Russian capital Moscow last week hosted the sixth Russia-Gulf Cooperation Council strategic dialogue meeting. The meeting revealed the two sides’ desire to progress on all issues and at all levels to forge strong, deep-rooted ties.
The meeting also demonstrated that the two sides are better prepared than ever to build a long-term strategic partnership. This was evidenced by the mutual agreement on a number of issues, including the three Emirati islands currently occupied by Iran, as well as convergence on regional issues such as the Palestinian question and the disputes in Syria, Libya, Lebanon and Yemen — not to mention Gulf security, ensuring the freedom of maritime navigation, trade flow and security of oil sites.
What is more, the meeting’s concluding statement highlighted the areas of cooperation in which both parties hope to advance, including political and economic cooperation and collaboration on tackling environmental and climate change-related issues. These are in addition to efforts to resolve the Ukraine dispute, ensure the continuation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative and address other problems of mutual interest.
It could be said that these understandings came about within the framework of shared motives and convergent viewpoints. For its part, Russia today pays particular attention to boosting its partnership with the Gulf states, given the strategic and security imperatives that are steering Russian foreign policy.
At the head of these imperatives comes the need to assert Russia’s standing as a major world power capable of protecting its interests, national security and geopolitical spheres, and of breaking the cycle of Western encirclement imposed on it, particularly Western sanctions that have been unprecedentedly expanded and accelerated since the start of the Russian war on Ukraine.
It should be noted that the value of trade exchange between Russia and the Gulf states came to $11 billion in 2018, compared to $7.6 billion in the most recent statistics for 2021. This makes this partnership critical from Russia’s viewpoint, given the conflict in which it is presently engaged with the West, which is having a severe negative effect on the Russian economy.
These understandings are also in line with Russia’s efforts to enhance its role in a multipolar world order, preserve its strategic stability and build partnerships with as many countries as possible.
Moscow also seeks to establish blocs to counter the West’s policy that is aimed at weakening Russia and driving it out of the power equation by preventing it from exerting influence as a global superpower.
Based on these strategic perspectives, relations with the Gulf are one of Moscow’s strategic priorities, given the region’s status as an important and effective partner to Russia at the political and economic levels. Additionally, there is no doubt that Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf states have played an important diplomatic role that has gained Russia’s confidence. This, in turn, could assist the Gulf states in playing mediation roles to advance political resolutions, thus building on the success of past efforts by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, which have resulted in achievements such as the prisoner swap deal between the US and Russia, as well as efforts to mitigate some aspects of the region’s humanitarian crises.
The Gulf states also share Russia’s interest in expanding partnerships and enhancing their mutual interests in light of several factors. Foremost among these are: Russia’s strong involvement in regional issues over the last decade; the growing Russian political and military footprint in the Middle East, including its engagement in the Syrian crisis, which has secured its navy a base in the Mediterranean’s warm waters; and its intensive involvement in regional disputes and issues. This has led to Russia becoming a key player in the Middle East, to which regional powers, including the Gulf states, now turn.
What is more, the Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, have adopted a foreign policy based on diversifying partnerships with the leading world powers, taking advantage of the shifts in the global order to reposition themselves and expand the scope of their strategic independence.
The Saudi position on reducing OPEC+ oil production, developing strategic relationships with China and adopting a balanced stance on the war in Ukraine are the most evident examples in this regard. These developments have, in turn, dissipated Moscow’s historic fears regarding the Gulf states.
Similarly, Moscow’s balanced approach to regional issues has played a positive role in encouraging the Gulf states to bolster ties with Russia, which has succeeded in introducing itself as a reliable partner to the region’s countries. The benefits of this positive relationship are apparent in the Gulf states’ balanced position toward the war in Ukraine, as well as in the high-level coordination with Russia within the OPEC+ bloc, which is based exclusively on Russian and Saudi interests. The two sides have also worked together to achieve a balance between producers and consumers in the energy markets, contributing to global economic growth.
It could also be confidently asserted that geopolitical developments in the Gulf states in recent years have created an appropriate diplomatic climate for boosting Russo-GCC relations. As part of its new foreign policy, Saudi Arabia has also opened the door for China to play a major role in the region. In light of the competition with the US, China’s strategic presence in the region sets an example for Russia to follow in terms of further deepening a credible partnership with the Gulf states.
The prevalent climate of openness following the Beijing-brokered Saudi-Iran rapport deal has created the conditions for a more effective Russian role, free from the restrictions once placed on Moscow due to previous Iran-Gulf differences. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s vision for the new Middle East provides an opportunity for global powers to be economic and political partners in shaping the region’s future and helping its transition from the current state of chaos and dispute into a model of stability and development.

Relations with the Gulf are one of Moscow’s strategic priorities, given the region’s status as an important and effective partner.

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

In conclusion, it could be said that, since convening the first Russo-GCC strategic dialogue meeting in 2011, conditions have never been more suitable than they are today for enacting the mutual cooperation agenda. This is taking place despite the challenges that have impeded bilateral relations in recent years.
It seems that the current geopolitical shifts on the regional and global stages — in addition to the GCC states’ ambitions, development plans and efforts to diversify their ties and international relationships, not to mention more independent foreign policies — will take this relationship to new highs and advance it to a deeper, more mutually beneficial stage than it previously attained, thus enabling both sides to achieve their shared strategic interests.
This advance in relations is taking place as Russia is acknowledged as a global power with significant weight, influence and presence in the Middle East and elsewhere, along with increasing recognition of the Gulf states’ new position as a major player on the regional and global stage. This is in addition to the quantum leaps achieved by the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia under Vision 2030, which is a truly pioneering, groundbreaking and ambitious project for the new Middle East. This, in turn, provides a vital foundation for expanding partnerships with the global powers, including Russia — away from polarization and dispute.

  • Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami
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