the strategic ambivalence of the Emirates towards Russia

At a time when the international community has been uniting against Moscow since Russia invaded Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates are playing their own game. The tiny Gulf federation distinguished itself alongside India and China in a UN Security Council vote on Friday, February 25, by abstaining on a draft resolution condemning the Russian invasion.

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The project was not adopted due to Moscow’s veto, but the lone horseman of the Emirates was noticed by its Western allies, especially the United States, who counted on their partner’s vote. Especially since the Emirates, as a non-permanent member of the Security Council, on Tuesday, April 1,ah March for a month.

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To justify this abstention, Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to President Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, argued with it on Twitter “Taking sides would only lead to more violence.” “The UAE stands firmly by the principles of the United Nations, international law and state sovereignty and rejects military solutions.” he added.

neutrality of circumstances

This awkward neutrality finds a first diplomatic explanation, linked to the interests of the Emirates in the Middle East. “Monday, a resolution to the entire Yemeni Houthi rebellionthe arms embargo was decided by the council. But the Emirates were certainly afraid that if they agreed to the resolution on Ukraine, they would be rejected by Russia.” Analysis Jean-Loup Samaan, researcher at the Middle East Institute, University of Singapore. The UAE has been involved with Saudi Arabia in the coalition against the Houthis in Yemen since 2015. Russia, despite being close to Iran and supporting this rebellion, actually voted for this text.

“The Emirates have also made a fairly realistic math, which is to tell themselves there is more to lose by opposing Putin than by abstaining. adds the golf specialist. The United States and Europeans are unhappy but will carry on. Moreover, given our own bilateral interests (military and economic), France has not responded. »

frustration with the United States

Some Emirati pro-government analysts are portraying the abstention as a deadlock, as if to signal the country’s frustration with the United States turning its back on the Middle East in favor of Asia. Their human rights grievances are also not to the liking of the Emirates or Saudi Arabia. Abu Dhabi had backed away from the American ally in December 2021, threatening to cancel a colossal deal to buy F-35 fighter jets.

At the same time, relations between the Emirates and Russia have been strengthened in recent years from an economic and security point of view. A movement that is part of the broader framework of alliance diversification in the Gulf. Without being a partner as old and important as the United States, Moscow has established itself as a major player in the Middle East, directly (Syria) or indirectly (Iran, Yemen).

Bound by black gold

Russia and the Emirates are also connected by the black gold. Like most Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, Abu Dhabi has a producer-partner relationship with Moscow through OPEC and knows that the deal would likely collapse if Russia left the arrangement. Tuesday 1ah On March 11, the crown prince and strongman of the country, Mohammed Bin Zayed, and Vladimir Putin, speaking by phone, also stressed the need “Maintain stability” of the global energy market.

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The day before the invasion of Ukraine, Abu Dhabi had spoken of it “deep friendship with Moscow”. Russians also represent a major tourist boon for Dubai, especially for the Russian elite (6% of visitors were Russians in 2021), as well as a target for their investments.

A potential mediator

In this context, can the Emirates represent an alternative for Russian capital under Western sanctions? “With this nonalignment, we are returning to a Cold War logic. But there is some leeway between neutrality and sanctions evasion, believes Jean-Loup Samaan. I don’t think they’re going that far now. »

Rather, the country wants to position itself as a potential mediator between Russians and Westerners. The Emiratis also voted “In the Ukraine crisis, our priority is to encourage all parties to act diplomatically and negotiate to find a political solution,” said Anwar Gargash. “MBZ” repeated it on Tuesday and stated that it would continue to seek contacts in order to find one “political problem” to the crisis. “But even if power is trying to articulate an Emirati vision on recordnotes Jean-Loup Samaan, the Emirates do not have the experience of the Qataris in this area. »

As a sign of their ambivalence, the country voted in favor of the resolution “Aggression against Ukraine” adopted by the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, March 2nd. “Demand that Russia stop using violence against Ukraine immediately”.

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