The Saudi Kingdom gets closer to Moscow and Beijing. Writes Uriel Araujo
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, during his visit to Saudi Arabia on May 31, said that the Gulf country has shown interest in the BRICS group, which has recently reached consensus on an expansion process. After US-Saudi tensions under Joe Biden’s presidency, and with Saudi-Iranian talks aimed at rapprochement, the Saudi Kingdom seems to be repositioning itself in the global arena, which may have profound consequences.
The Russian minister visited the Kingdom for talks with Gulf authorities. The trip took place shortly after the European Union approved its plan to reduce Russian oil exports to the bloc, thus further increasing sanctions against Moscow – even though it is clear by now they do not really work against Russian economy as much as thought and in fact harm mostly the West itself as well as African and middle-eastern nations.
Since the latest stage in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, which escalated in February with the Kremlin’s military operation, Moscow has been facing increasing pressure and sanctions from the US-led West. So far, the oil-exporting Gulf states have chosen to maintain their ties with Russia and thus have not joined the sanctions.
During the current war, oil prices have skyrocketed and have remained above $100 a barrel during May. The global easing of the COVID-19 lockdowns added extra pressure on fuel supplies worldwide and this growing demand caused a rise in energy prices, amid a global supply chain crisis.
Both Lavrov and Prince Faisal bin Farhan, his counterpart, praised Russian-Saudi oil-market cooperation in OPEC+ alliance. This coordination in such a strategic area, they noted, has a stabilizing effect on the world’s hydrocarbon market. The OPEC+ grouping comprises the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) 13 state members plus 10 non-OPEC oil producers led by Moscow.
OPEC+ was due to restore production by the end of September, as it halted during the pandemic crisis. However, the Saudis might bring barrels even earlier, according to RBC Capital Markets LLC. Earlier, the Walls Street Journal reported that OPEC was in fact contemplating suspending Russia from its quota system because the current sanctions prevent Moscow from increasing its output. Thus, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia could fill this supplying gap. However, the Organization stopped short of this move, and the Eurasian country was not excluded. On May 22, the Saudi Kingdom’s energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, had already signaled his country’s support for Russia.
On June 2, OPEC+ officials announced they will increase output by about 650,000 barrels a day in July and August. This is nearly two-thirds more than previously planned.
Saudi-US estrangement peaked after Biden’s decision last year to review F-35 fighter and weapons sales to the Kingdom.
Recently, the Saudi authorities in Riyadh have been advancing their cooperation with Beijing. In March, they started discussing accepting yuan instead of dollars for their oil sales to China (the negotiation is still going on). This would certainly accelerate the much-discussed ongoing global economy’s de-dollarization. These are certainly initiatives pertaining to economic considerations but they obviously may also have profound geopolitical consequences, and the Gulf nation’s interest in the BRICS group indicates an even more interesting turn than its ongoing dialogue with Iran, a traditional foe.
The May 20 BRICS virtual meeting reached a consensus at expanding the group and broadening BRICS+ cooperation. Besides the BRICS member states (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the meeting included foreign ministers from Egypt, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Senegal, Argentina, and Thailand, as well as Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.
The progressing Saudi nuclear program, developed in collaboration with China since at least 2018, is yet another sign of an emerging Sino-Saudi-Pakistan alliance. Becoming part of the BRICS group, Riyadh will have yet another forum to coordinate its perspectives together with Moscow and Beijing so as to maximize benefits for all – bilateral disputes apart. For example, even though there were rumors that India would not attend the latest BRICS summit due to its bilateral quarrels with China, the country did attend it.
The rise in commodity prices is increasingly being perceived as a product of the West’s sanctions policy. This forces the global south to look for alternatives and parallel mechanisms. In this spirit we now see the rise of a new non-aligned tendency amongst African leaders, for example. Likewise, the BRICS group now has a window of opportunity to project itself as a kind of alternative to the western bloc. And the Gulf Kingdom seems to be onboard.
After trying to isolate the country (which had been a traditional US ally), Washington is now planning a high-profile meeting between President Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. From the White House’s perspective, ties with Riyadh must be maintained as a counter to Russian and Chinese developments. Saudi Arabia’s challenge will be to navigate the emerging polycentric world through multi-alignment as New Delhi and, to some degree, Brasilia have managed to do so far.
Uriel Araujo, researcher with a focus on international and ethnic conflicts.
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