How the war in Ukraine and the talks in Vienna may affect the Middle East

Nuclear talks with Iran have big implications for the Middle East (Photo: by Shutterstock)

Countries in the Middle East are walking a tightrope between the war in Ukraine and the talks in Vienna about the nuclear deal with Iran, according to Ahmad Abdel-Rahman.

Where is the Middle East heading in light of the escalation of the war in Ukraine? And what are the repercussions for the region?

Russia has strengthened its military presence in Syria, and has carried out military manoeuvres in the Mediterranean, near the western shore of Syria. By so doing it is sending clear messages to the US and Western countries. We have also witnessed tension, even if it remains restricted, in northeastern Syria between the powers on the ground allied to Russia and Turkey.

Tensions have put the existing understandings between the two parties in the Syrian strategic theatre at risk of failing and reshuffling the cards, despite Turkey trying to maintain a balance on its stance on the war in Ukraine. Turkey offered to mediate in order to stop the fighting, even if it was not able to launch a diplomatic initiative.

Meanwhile we read, on the eve of the visit to Moscow by Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, that both sides have vowed to continue their existing cooperation in Syria. Washington, for its part, has announced that it is working to secure an alternative to gas and oil imports from Russia, through an understanding with some Arab gas-exporting countries. Despite the fact that the US only imports about 3% of crude oil from Russia, the knock-on effects, particularly in terms of inflation, are a serious concern for the US.

The Arab position shown by the recent Arab League (AL) meeting is clear. It calls for the conflict to be settled through dialogue and diplomacy, based on UN principles. The vote in the UN General Assembly, along with the resolution condemning Moscow, was not considered to have overthrown this delicate and uneasy position. All countries in the region want to maintain a balanced approach towards Russia because of their proximity to the West, adhering to the principles and foundations of international legitimacy.

These countries have called for a political settlement of this crisis, for fear of an escalation, which would have major repercussions on politics, economies and security. All the countries of the region are walking a tightrope in respect to Russia. Despite the war, they still need Russia in the Middle East.

The Vienna talks and the importance of reaching a nuclear agreement

The Ukrainian crisis also comes at an important and sensitive moment since nuclear talks between the six powers and Iran are drawing to a close. The stakeholders believe that any differences that remain can be overcome and so doing would contribute greatly to regional stability as well as removing many elements of tension. However, what is still required is to build an understanding between the major powers in the region. If reached, this would reorganise relations, based on the implementation of known rules and norms between states.

Moreover, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, has announced that the US is required to provide written guarantees that sanctions against Russia will not affect free cooperation and trade, economic, military and other integration with Iran.

This move may create new difficulties in reaching a nuclear agreement. Some commentators have described this as "a reshuffling of cards" on the part of Moscow. Nonetheless, it is necessary, but not sufficient, for the region to have the talks end in an agreement. However, we must wait to see what developments will happen in the coming days.

**As at the time of writing this article, Tehran is still demanding the removal of Washington's designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a branch of the Iranian Armed Forces, as a foreign terrorist organisation.

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Saturday, 30 September 2023