Washington has exerted significant diplomatic efforts to create a united front against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. To this end, President Joe Biden invited Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in January in an attempt to ease Germany’s concerns over energy.
The US president negotiated and navigated Europe’s fears regarding the impact of sanctions on energy supplies and the ejection of Russia from the global SWIFT system by allowing exemptions. He also reinforced NATO allies neighboring Ukraine with troops and weapons to show that the US was committed to steering the crisis in a manner that prevents the outbreak of a World War with the potential of turning nuclear.
Yet, it is abundantly clear that while Europe and the US are becoming more aligned and unified in their position towards the war in Ukraine, US allies elsewhere have displayed reluctance – and even outright defiance – towards Washington.
On February 25, the UAE and Israel decided to abstain from a vote at the Security Council to denounce Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
On February 25, the UAE and Israel, along with China, decided to abstain from a vote at the Security Council to denounce Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The abstentions took place despite prior bilateral conversations on the issue between the US Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken, and his UAE and Israeli counterparts.
Reasons Behind the Abstentions
Following the abstentions, the UAE’s The National News published an opinion piece that highlighted the general discontent in Abu Dhabi towards the US and the awareness that it had reneged on its security responsibilities towards the Gulf state. In particular, the article expanded on Abu Dhabi’s dismay at the lack of an effective response by Washington over the January Houthi attacks on the Emirates.
More broadly, there has been a growing sense in the region that — unlike what some observers may infer — the US can no longer be trusted as a security guarantor. Especially as it continues to bulldoze its way to formalizing a nuclear deal with Iran, which will cement Tehran’s proxy influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.
The UAE has also noted that rather than uphold its commitment to protecting allies such as Saudi Arabia, which has come under regular missile attacks from the Houthis, Washington instead chose to withdraw missile systems and alienate Riyadh.
In essence, the UAE no longer sees Washington as a reliable ally, and therefore, it is imperative to avoid being dragged into conflicts that will only hurt UAE interests in the long run. From such a perspective, going along with Washington will not be beneficial since Biden will not change its attitude simply to please the UAE. And if Abu Dhabi continues to stay loyal to the US, it may alienate potential allies in Moscow and Beijing who could make up for that which the US fails to provide.
The UAE no longer sees Washington as a reliable ally.
Prominent UAE commentator, Abdul Khaleq Abdullah, expressed these sentiments in a tweet even before the war in Ukraine:
“When the UAE had to choose between F-35s from the US or 5G from China, the UAE chose the latter… Such a strategic decision sends out a number of messages; among them that the future [in UAE’s eyes] is in the East, not the West.” (Translated here from Arabic)
The UAE also believes that discontent and frustration with the US are rife across the region to varying degrees and in multiple capitals, including Cairo, Riyadh, Ankara, Doha, Algiers, and Rabat.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in Cairo, is annoyed with the US withholding aid over human rights issues. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, in Riyadh, remains frustrated at Biden’s refusal to talk to him. Ankara has opposed sanctions against Russia as relations with Biden remain tense. Furthermore, despite a high-profile visit to Washington, Doha has announced it cannot provide the gas to Europe that Biden asked for. Meanwhile, Algiers has a historical relationship with Moscow that it sees no reason to compromise on. And finally, Rabat is frustrated at Washington’s cooling on issues relating to the Western Sahara.
Hence, the UAE does not think that Washington would “punish” it if only to avoid further alienating the rest of its Middle Eastern and North African allies.
The UAE does not think that Washington would “punish” it.
Tel Aviv has also been open in its antagonism towards the Biden administration. It continues to criticize the negotiations between Washington and Tehran over a new nuclear deal. More importantly, Tel Aviv reasons that it cannot afford to alienate Moscow, given Israel and Russia’s close security cooperation over Syria where Iran is currently entrenching itself. Tel Aviv deems its immediate interests trump that of Washington and that Biden should display a greater understanding of the geopolitical situation, rather than demand that allies compromise on vital interests.
India and China
China also abstained from the Security Council vote, while India abstained from the subsequent vote at the UN General Assembly. Washington has been wooing India for some time now, and US policymakers have been bullish over the potential for a solid partnership with New Delhi. However, New Delhi believes that Washington’s approach is being driven exclusively by concerns over China.
India has a historical relationship with Russia.
India has a historical relationship with Russia, which has acted as a counterbalance to US support for India’s arch-rival, Pakistan. Moreover, Washington did not liaise with New Delhi over the withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan, which irked Indian policymakers. For India, the US has not shown that it can be relied upon as an alternative to its long-standing partnership with Moscow. Therefore, a conflict on an entirely different continent is not deemed “worth it” if it compromises its relationship with Russia.
At the heart of these abstentions is a sense that Russia will continue to be a major power – irrespective of how the Ukraine war ends. And that the US will increasingly become an unreliable ally. The expectation is that Putin will either get what he wants in Kyiv or achieve a compromise that limits the damage to Russia’s influence abroad but forever undermines US power.
Yet, what these allies fail to appreciate, is the disastrous consequences Putin’s war in Ukraine will have on regional stability and what the potential impact of a Putin “victory” may have. One needs only look to Syria and Libya for a glimpse into what Russian expansion looks like in the region – and the nature of the relationship Moscow aspires to have with regional powers.