Sanctions against Russia: Reactions from the Middle East

The Middle East media have not stopped commenting on recent developments in Ukraine through the prism of their perception in the region. Particular attention is paid to the topic of the sanctions imposed on Moscow and their resonance in the Arab world.

As can be seen, attitudes towards these measures are negative in the region. After all, a number of Arab countries that refused to follow the dictates of the US and the West in their policies have been subjected to sanctions.  Their inhumane nature has damaged the economy, led to the death and suffering of civilians, but has not caused the fall of regimes in Libya, Iraq, Syria. However, Arab lawyers remind that in the case of both the Arabs and Russia, the sanctions are unilateral and contrary to the letter and the spirit of the UN Charter.

Observers see duplicity in the authors of these coercive measures under the pretext of “taking over” Ukraine. They are annoyed that action of this kind has not been taken against Israel in many decades of occupation of Arab lands. They note that the media and politicians immediately rushed to condemn Russia in relation to Ukraine, but have been silent for 19 years on the US-British aggression in Iraq and the results of the disaster it has brought to its people. Those results include the destruction of the infrastructure of that country, the economic and humanitarian losses, the distress and impoverishment of the population, etc.

The headlines in the media – “Why is the world paying the price?”, “The conflict in Ukraine and its impact on our weak peoples”, “Will the Arabs starve?” and others – are telling.  Their authors do not hide their concern about the possible consequences of sanctions against Russia, the shadow of which is being cast over the political landscape in the region and wider world.

The rise in inflation that has plagued Europe is somehow being transferred to the Middle East region, pushing up consumer prices for the population. This exacerbates the external debt of a number of countries, especially where it is high: Egypt and Tunisia.

This year, according to the World Bank, global food prices are at their highest level since they began to be formally recorded 60 years ago. At the same time, the cost of grain has risen by 42% this year and that of sunflower oil by 30%, while energy prices have grown by 50%.

Arab countries are major importers of cereals and food products. Here Egypt leads the way (13 million tonnes per year). These countries meet 63% of their needs for grain, 65% for sugar, 55% for vegetable oil, etc. through imports. Meanwhile, they meet 42% of their grain needs from the Russian Federation and 40% from Ukraine.

Russia is also at the forefront of fertilizer production, especially in nitrogen. Fertilizer prices were already at an all-time high before the conflict erupted, affecting overall food security.

The effects, the Arab Monetary Fund suggests, will affect the Arabs in varying degrees. For example, the region’s oil-producing countries will earn more from the energy they sell in 2022 due to a surge in energy prices following the escalation of events in Ukraine. But they will have to increase the cost of importing foodstuffs, especially grain, as well as industrial products and equipment. Those members of the Arab world that import hydrocarbons will be more affected.

Media reports and analysts have sounded the alarm about supply chain disruptions, failures in the supply of some goods, especially foodstuffs.  General tensions could affect the tourism sector, a source of important foreign exchange earnings in a number of Arab countries. All this has the potential for food shortages, the threat of hunger, volatility due to possible outbreaks of discontent, etc.

A number of local analysts are outraged as to why the region should somehow “pay the bills of hatred” of the West towards Russia. Sanctions are designed to bleed Russia white and set it back, but they also make the world pay the price for the US to remain on the throne as the planet’s sole ruler, even if its allies suffer as a result.

Given the impact of the possible detrimental effects of the anti-Russian sanctions, local experts urge the authorities to monitor the situation and act wisely for the sake of their national interests.

In general, it is not in the interest of the Middle East and its individual states to spoil relations with Moscow, as each country has its own ties to Russia. One way or another, countries in the Middle East interact with the Kremlin and therefore need it, Al-Quds stresses.

Observers refer to the fact that their mutual trade has been growing markedly in recent years.  They conclude that the Arabs should move in two directions: increasing trade with Moscow, which exceeded $18 billion in 2021, and following India and China in switching to local currencies. In addition, they advise to take advantage of the departure of American and European companies that are investing in the Russian market. Arab capital has great opportunities to take their place and compete successfully in this Russian market.

Russia is a strategic partner of the Gulf countries when it comes to oil and security issues. In these countries, as partners in the OPEC+ agreement, everyone has an interest in the stability of oil prices on world markets. Therefore, a win for one side at the expense of the other would not serve the interest of the balance sought in the hydrocarbon market, but would only risk increasing chaos in the field.

American politicians should understand, commentators argue, that Russia is an organic part of the OPEC+ alliance which will not oppose Moscow or take any part of its oil exports from the market. The Russian Federation will remain in OPEC even after the Ukrainian crisis is over.

Western attempts to press oil-producing countries to increase hydrocarbon production and exports must be seen in the context of the economic diversification policies implemented by a number of Arabian monarchies. They envisages a shift away from oil and gas dependence, innovation in everyday life, etc.

In recent years, Gulf countries have been implementing modernization programs called Qatar National Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia Vision 2030, and Oman Vision 2040, etc. They are dictated by pragmatic considerations and economic benefits that are emerging in the light of new realities.

Arab countries have been victims of the unipolar world since the end of the Cold War, when the era was marked by the US turning their region into a battle and rivalry field, a Jordanian political scientist believes.

Today, in the light of the crisis in Ukraine and the accompanying changes looming, they have a chance to make things right. It is a matter of local players using their large financial, economic and natural resources to diversify politics and international relations more actively. So that as they shift their political navigation towards Russia and China, they can have their own say.

Yury Zinin, a senior researcher at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies of Moscow State Institute of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MGIMO), exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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