A year after the war in Ukraine, how has the Middle East changed?

How has the Middle East evolved a year after the Ukraine war? What has changed in the Middle East a year after the Ukrainian conflict?

How has the Middle East evolved a year after the Ukraine war?

 The first year of the war in Ukraine has resulted in nearly total disruption of relations. What has changed politically and economically between the Middle Eastern countries and the area and the leading powers? 


The United States, which was planning to leave the Middle East, has halted its retreat. It may have entirely altered its mind. Meanwhile, China has emerged in a prominent role after negotiating the Saudi-Iranian agreement. The surge in oil and petrol prices has helped the Gulf nations, while the Egyptian economy has continued to worsen. As a result, the most populous Arab country’s regional significance has been reduced.

The first year of Russia’s campaign, described by Moscow as a ‘special military operation’ and by the West as an ‘aggressive invasion’, profoundly influenced world affairs. Aside from the consequences in the Middle East, the battle has shown the complexities of calculating the region’s powers. It is the outcome of an increasing worldwide struggle between the US and its Western allies, on the one hand, and Russia and China, on the other.

The Economic Impact on the Middle East

In contrast to the American and Western perspectives, the attitude of the regional powers to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict was considerably different. To avoid compromising their immediate mutual interests, they avoided adopting a firm position against Russia. Instead, they strove to achieve a balance between the two camps. This balance is based on preventing sanctions against Russia or overt military aid to Ukraine and providing humanitarian aid. At the same time, they condemn the ‘invasion’ and defend Ukraine’s sovereignty, probably excluding Turkey, which has a pre-war military alliance with Ukraine.
Middle Eastern nations backed the UN General Assembly resolution denouncing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Specifically, Syria voted against it, and Iran, Algeria, and Iraq abstained while supporting the UN resolution condemning Russia for having annexed part of Ukraine. Nevertheless, while not opposing Western restrictions on selling some components to Moscow, nations in the region, notably Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, abstained from joining measures to isolate Russia economically.

Except for Libya, which backed the resolution, most nations in the area likewise abstained from supporting the suspension of Russia’s participation in the UN Human Rights Council. Turkey and the Gulf states were inclined to assist it monetarily as the conflict proceeded, while Iran and Algeria supported it militarily.

But the emergence of an economic divide between the regional powers has been one of the most significant effects in the Middle East. The war has resulted in most Gulf countries making record profits from oil and gas exports. Simultaneously, some countries in the region face severe economic crises with rising energy and commodity prices, notably Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, and Lebanon. In addition, there are record inflation – Turkey – and a financial crisis – Iran – linked more to the tightening of sanctions.

These developments have accelerated the pace of economic competition between countries that have made tremendous gains. Perhaps the most striking example is that between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It has also led to political tensions, for example, between Saudi Arabia and Egypt over how Riyadh should provide financial support to Cairo.

Geopolitical and economic gains for the Gulf states

1- Riyadh and Abu Dhabi:

When war broke out in Ukraine, Saudi-US and UAE-US relations were undergoing a period of reassessment. This period is the result of recent US policy. It has raised doubts about Washington’s commitment as a guarantor of regional security. The most notable examples were the sudden withdrawal from Afghanistan and the slow and inappropriate response to Iranian-backed attacks on Saudi and UAE territory.

The US policies have led Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to diversify their relations with global actors. They have expanded their security and economic ties with other partners, including Russia and China. The diversification gives them more independence from Washington, although work continues to renew the security and military partnership with Washington. They are trying to establish a framework of clear agreements supported by Congress and not subject to the shifting orientations of White House administrations. In this context, the Gulf states tend to soften their stance on the war in Ukraine.

On the other hand, Washington’s need to ensure the loyalty of its allies has led the Joe Biden administration to take the US commitment to Gulf security more seriously. This commitment was demonstrated by the high-level US-GCC meetings hosted by Riyadh in February. The two most important meetings were the Iran Working Group and the Counter-Terrorism Working Group.

2- Qatar:

Aside from the substantial economic gains from increased liquefied natural gas exports to the European Union (around $86.8 billion), significant regional and international geopolitics is also at stake. In particular, Qatar’s gas exports strengthen Doha’s strategic partnership with Washington. Qatar’s important contribution to European energy security increases its political influence in the European Union. At the same time, there is a strategic agreement with China. Qatar’s central role in global energy security following the war in Ukraine should enable Doha to benefit diplomatically on regional and international issues.

3- How has Turkey benefited from the war in Ukraine?

Turkey’s ‘balanced’ policy towards the war in Ukraine has achieved a complicated equation. The formula underlines the vitality of Ankara’s crucial geopolitical position in the West. At the same time, it has maintained beneficial working and friendly relations with Russia. The balance is in keeping with Ankara’s quest for a foreign policy that is more independent of, but not hostile to, the West. It does not want to abandon its strategic military alliance with the West.

Ankara’s international diplomatic efforts during the war cemented Turkey’s status as a mediator between the West and Russia. It managed to bring Russia back into the grain agreement, largely negotiated by Ankara. Ankara also hosted a rare meeting between the heads of the US and Russian intelligence services. Earlier, Turkey also helped arrange a high-profile prisoner exchange of 270 detainees between Russia and Ukraine.

In addition, Turkey has sought economic gain through its balanced policy towards the war. This gain is represented by the continuous flow not only of Russian tourists, but also of Russian businessmen and investors. For investors, Turkey offers a favourable environment in the face of Western sanctions, which are expected to continue.

4- Russian-Iranian Rapprochement

The war in Ukraine has directly impacted relations between Iran and Russia. It has led to a strengthening of this relationship as part of the desire of both parties to weaken the American hegemonic system. However, Russian-Iranian relations are always tactical, linked to the interests of each party. The relationship may develop strategically, given the escalation of everyday challenges.

Tehran wants to overcome Western restrictions and threats. On the other hand, Moscow needs solid regional partners to overcome the economic isolation that the West is trying to impose on it. However, it is too early to describe the Iranian-Russian relationship as a strategic alliance. Hence, their divergent positions on many issues, such as Israel and the future of Syria. The two countries are also competing for influence in Central Asia and for the export of gas and oil to international markets. Moreover, each has used its relationship with the other as a bargaining chip with the West. This is a strategy that both had previously pursued during intermittent periods of détente with the West.

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