When the United Arab Emirates abstained from the Feb. 25 U.N. Security Council vote to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there was much consternation, as many observers expected the United States’ partners in the Middle East to unequivocally side with Washington and Europe.
Why did one of the United States’ closest partners in the Middle East decline to vote against Russia? The UAE was probably hedging its bets, a path that seems popular elsewhere in the region, too.
Hedging to the extreme
Russia is not a strategic partner for the Persian Gulf monarchies. Given its production capabilities, Russia has become an important interlocutor for Saudi Arabia in the OPEC-plus oil bloc that controls close to 40 percent of global production, but Moscow also competes with gulf countries as an energy producer.
Russia has forged strategic partnerships or military cooperation agreements with Saudi Arabia and the UAE — but its capabilities remain incomparable to those of the United States. Russia’s regional trade and investment volumes are dwarfed by those involving the United States and, especially, Europe. Despite recent attempts to take the nuclear deal with Iran hostage as leverage against Western sanctions, Russia has for years resisted Saudi and Emirati inputs to contain Iran geopolitically.