Gulf states could play key role in Ukraine mediation

Many of us, myself included, did not imagine that the crisis in Ukraine would come to this.

Born after the Second World War, I — like many other Europeans — grew up in peace, far from hostilities. The idea of a war on the outskirts of Europe seemed impossible, yet that is what is happening here and now. French President Emmanuel Macron has announced that it could last a while, but I am not so sure.

The responses in support of Ukraine are numerous, but no country has yet decided to send troops to back it up on the front line. France has volunteered to send 500 soldiers to Romania as part of NATO missions, but this is hundreds of kilometers from the Ukrainian border.

The EU immediately imposed very severe financial sanctions, although measures to at least partially exclude Russia from the SWIFT international banking exchange system took time to be agreed. Several member states initially held back the implementation of this measure for fear of the economic consequences on themselves. International bodies, including NATO and the Council of Europe, have increased their consultations and emergency meetings.

The forces of Vladimir Putin, the master of the Kremlin, continued steadily on their way to Kyiv amid all this opposition.

At a UN meeting last week, Abdulaziz Alateek, Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to the organization, spoke on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council and recalled Security Council Resolution 2202, which was adopted unanimously in 2015, and called for de-escalation.

The first matter that comes to mind is obviously that of peace and security in Europe. Could the Gulf states play a role in building this peace? This is not a rhetorical question and the answer is yes. In the event of Russia failing to supply gas to Europe, the Gulf and the US would become our main sources.

The Ukraine crisis is leading Europe to rethink its energy strategy and find other gas suppliers at reasonable prices, which shale gas from the US does not allow (and which, by the way, is an ecological disaster). Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, which are already present on the European market, will therefore be our doubly privileged partners.

For a while, it seemed obvious that Gulf support for Ukraine would have been immediate, but the situation seems to have changed in recent years. The UAE’s abstention on the UN Security Council’s resolution on Saturday was interpreted by some as a lack of support for an international condemnation initiative. I do not see it as such. To abstain is also to take a stand.

The UAE is an essential player in 21st-century diplomacy. The country, fortified by the Abraham Accords, uses committed but cautious diplomacy, mindful of regional and international balances.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is engaged in a modernization plan and is showing unprecedented openness to the world. It has been looking to diversify its alliances since the war in Iraq.

The decision to host a French military base in Abu Dhabi is clear proof of the Gulf’s strategy and shows an informed and relevant choice.

The erratic and unpredictable policies of the US, as exemplified by its unilateral decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, have sown doubts among its historical allies in the Gulf.

The UAE, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, knows that the Gulf is the surest alternative for Europe’s energy supply.

At the same time, relations within OPEC+ call for the utmost caution and skill. The global economy is largely based on the agreements or disagreements of its members, including Russia.

An OPEC+ meeting is scheduled for March 2 and it seems to me that the UAE’s caution at the UNSC was welcome. Abstention does not mean that the UAE supports Russia’s military operation.

It is obvious that diplomatic stances are impacted by energy policies, particularly where it is impossible and would be irresponsible to act alone. In fact, the global economy’s survival is in the hands of these friendly countries. Following the pandemic, an uncontrolled rise in gas prices would be deadly for the global economy.

The Gulf states, with the UAE taking the lead, are therefore essential partners that play a major role in the global economy in their capacity as leading allies in international diplomacy.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has requested Israel’s mediation in the conflict with Russia. Israel is now an ally of the UAE, which is why Abu Dhabi can play an eminent role in mediating this conflict in Europe — in addition to being a reliable ally.

  • Nathalie Goulet is a member of the Senate of France, representing the Orne department (Normandy). Twitter: @senateur61

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