The Russian President Putin’s war of choice in Ukraine is about to enter the third week of traditional field combat. The Ukrainian people and government are still valiantly defending their homeland, and consequently winning the admiration and support of the world. Meanwhile, Russia is defeated by political shaming, diplomatic scolding, and economic isolation. Yet, Putin’s ego is blinding him from realizing the dreadful hole that he brought himself into. Rather than withdrawing his forces to spare his country extra bleeding of money and manpower, he is recruiting Syrian mercenaries to join his exhausted and disappointed troops in Ukraine.
On March 8th, the British Minister of Defense, Ben Wallace, told media that this war marks the end of Putin’s legacy. “Whatever happens, President Putin is a spent force in the world and he is done, his army is done, and he needs to recognize that.” Wallace, also, highlighted that Putin has become a burden on Russia. “He has exhausted his army, he is responsible for thousands of Russian soldiers being killed, responsible for innocent people being killed. He is reducing his economy to zero. He has to take responsibility for that.”
Apparently, world leaders are determined to manifest Wallace’s prophecy of finishing Putin. A few hours before Wallace’s statements, the United States President Biden met, digitally, with British Prime Minister Johnson, French President Macron, and German Chancellor Scholz. The four leaders, who are leading international action to reverse Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, reaffirmed their determination to “continue raising the costs on Russia” and to continue “providing security, economic, and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.”
However, in the process, world leaders ought to be sure that they do not bring down the international economy system while escalating the economic pressures on Russia. That does not mean to stop fighting against Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. On the contrary, the economic sanctions on Russia have proven to be effective, so far. Although, the sanctions targeting Russia have already started to make shockwaves in other domestic economies, including those of the countries that imposed the sanctions. For example, the prices of basic food commodities, such as wheat, have triplicated, while the prices of crude oil, which is a matter of life or death for Europe, jumped from average US$30 to more than US$130 per barrel.
Most of the Arab countries are expected to suffer an economic decline, as a result, too. However, the Arab Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, can play tremendous roles in easing the pressures on the international economy, during and after the current global standoff. Given the fact that the side which remains standing longer wins at the end; Saudi Arabia and Qatar are literally holding the taps of the energy resources that could keep the U.S. and Europe standing strong, for a long period of time, in the face of Russia. Saudi Arabia is the top producer of crude oil in the Middle East region, and the third in the world after the United States and Russia. Meanwhile, Qatar is the top producer of natural gas in the region, and the third in the world after Russia and Iran.
Although most of the Arab countries were reluctant to take sides at the beginning of the war, they supported the United Nations’ resolution to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, during the extraordinary UN General Assembly session held on March 2nd, the 7th day of the war. All of the six Arab Gulf countries, who literally hold all the winning cards in the current international turmoil, voted in support of the UN resolution, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which a few days before that abstained from voting against Russia at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). That was a clear message that the Arabs chose to take the side of the western powers, their historically favorite allies. However, this grouping comes with a price.
Reportedly, the White House advisors are trying to convince President Biden to swallow his pride and travel to Saudi Arabia to restore broken ties with the royal family and convince them to increase oil production in order to control the soaring prices of energy resources. A few days before the Russia-Ukraine war starts, President Biden invited Prince Tamim of Qatar to Washington, where they discussed increasing natural gas exports to Europe, in anticipation to a crazy action by Putin in Ukraine. In return, the United States gave Qatar the privileged status of being a non-NATO strategic ally.
Nevertheless, despite being a giant producer of natural gas, Qatar alone cannot realistically replace Russia in fulfilling Europe’s needs. Europe’s average consumption of natural gas exceeds 400 billion cubic meters per year, while Qatar’s annual production of gas is average 180 billion cubic meters, most of which is contracted to Asian countries. From an optimistic point of view, this could be a ripe opportunity for the countries of North Africa to expand their presence in the European energy market, alongside Arab Gulf countries. Their advantageous geographic location at the southern shores of the Mediterranean improves their potential in that regard. Apparently, the world has already started exploring this potential. On March 3rd, Israel announced that it has started pumping extra volumes of natural gas to Egypt, via the Jordanian Arab Pipeline, in order for Egypt to increase its production of liquified natural gas that it can easily ship to Europe, later on.
Like it has been the case with almost all the major world events that hit the Middle East and its surrounding regions, in the past decade, it seems that the Arab Gulf countries would be expected to play a crucial role in supporting the western powers while they are taking care of finishing Putin’s era, and also in cleaning the international mess that will result from this process. That will definitely mark the beginning of a new era, wherein the Middle East emerges as a world superpower, in the new multipolar world system, after decades of being a desperate follower to other powers.
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