Will Saudi Arabia succeed in stopping the Ukraine war?

Riyadh has built  balanced relations with Moscow and Kiev, defused a possible diplomatic explosion with Iran, and strengthened its economic ties with China, explains Ahmad Abdel-Rahman.

Saudi-hosted talks on the Ukraine crisis, was concluded in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on August 5, according to state media.The two-day meeting was part of intense diplomatic pressure from Ukraine to garner support beyond its main Western backers by reaching out to countries in the Southern hemisphere that remain reluctant to articulate their position on a conflict that has battered the global economy.

Saudi Arabia hosted this important summit, which had the aim of getting world leaders to sit together to manage the international peace process. This was unexpected in some public, media and political circles, especially since there were a few years during which American forces tried to weaken the reformist Saudi leadership. The result was the opposite; the leadership reached a position of moral strength. However, those who have followed the development of the new Saudi policy for more than half a decade have realised its importance in Saudi diplomacy, which made a significant breakthrough during that period. In the past two years, since the end of Donald Trump's presidential term, the Saudi leadership has also had to understand the successive developments in US foreign policy. This was especially true after the decision was made by the US to remove the Houthis from the terrorist list in the winter of 2021. A few months later, Riyadh witnessed, along with the rest of the world, the hand over of Afghanistan to the Taliban.  

After that, steps to return to the nuclear agreement accelerated, accompanied by pressure on the Arab coalition to abandon the Yemeni government in its campaign to get back northern Yemen from the Houthis. Washington, under the Biden-Obama administration, abandoned the decisions made at the Riyadh summit, especially since President Joe Biden had used the phrase "pariah state" at some point to describe Saudi Arabia. In February 2021, President Biden left no doubt what he thought about how the US should deal with Saudi Arabia. His plan, he said, was to make the Saudis "pay the price for the killing of the opposing journalist Jamal Khashoggi., and make them in fact the pariah that they are." President Biden was equally blunt about the Saudi royal family.

The Ukraine war then exploded. The world was shocked, the Security Council was paralyzed, its permanent members were divided, economic and financial equations changed, and an energy crisis erupted in Europe. Washington DC rushed to gather its allies, and Biden traveled to Jeddah to meet the Saudis, Gulf and Arab leadership and ask them to provide the West with oil and gas. However, he found a Saudi stance that was totally firm and an Arab alliance that had changed.

The global power balance had changed. As the "axis of Asia", and its extensions in Africa and Latin America, started to compete with the West, another axis emerged led by Saudi Arabia. The pillars of the Iranian lobby thought that the new Arabs would not take serious steps towards diplomatic independence. However, Riyadh quickly implemented the strategy of opening up to all. This was based on its national interest and the interest of the Arab coalition. Hence, Saudi Arabia continued its normal relations with Russia, strengthened its economic ties with China and diversified its internal development plans. Despite successive US requests to consider its diplomatic relations with Russia, Saudi Arabia and its allies did not enter into a confrontation with Russia. Rather its leadership opened the door to mediation. And since the Arab coalition is ''moderate", the superpowers needed it to help end a dangerous war.

Trusted mediator

When Saudi Arabia became involved in the initiative of normalisation with Iran, under the umbrella of China, which Tehran immediately accepted, a new power balance emerged in the region. Although Saudi Arabia did not retreat from protecting its national security, regional security and Abrahamic peace, it still became a reliable mediator between Russia and NATO, in an effort to stop the war in Ukraine, and prevent it from spreading to other parts of Europe or the Middle East. The Saudi leadership built balanced relations with Moscow and Kiev, and improved its relations with Iran. Saudi Arabia also built stronger economic relations with the US through the granting of large contracts with US companies that Washington DC and the Pentagon applauded. It is for this reason that Saudi Arabia's economist friends are encouraging the administration to find a solution to the conflict in Ukraine.

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Saturday, 30 September 2023