Home World News the very political game of Saudi Arabia

the very political game of Saudi Arabia


All eyes will be on Saudi Arabia this Thursday, March 31, in Vienna, during the OPEC + meeting, in other words of the thirteen ministers of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries dominated by Riyadh, joined by a group ten other countries led by Russia. The stakes are high at a time when the war in Ukraine and the sanctions imposed on Moscow are causing oil prices to soar above 100 dollars a barrel. In recent days, the cartel is in a hurry to boost its production. However, Arabia, the leading exporter, and the United Arab Emirates are the only members of the organization able to respond favorably to this request.

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But what a few years ago might have seemed obvious – to line up behind a Western front – is no longer so. And despite strong demands from Washington, London and Paris, OPEC+ members refuse to relieve the market and risk sticking to the gradual increase of 400,000 barrels per day each month.

Oil, “a political resource”

“I hope that the players in the energy market will once again be on the right side », urged the executive director of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol. But the good side of some is not that of others. “The Gulf countries are emerging from a delicate period for their economy: the pandemic has for a time led to lower global demand for oil and therefore a considerable contraction in their oil windfall, notes Emma Soubrier, a visiting scholar at the Institute for Middle Eastern Studies at George Washington University. However, given their rentier dynamics, oil is also a political resource, which provides them with stability.. »

Since the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, the kingdom has hammered home its commitment to OPEC+, and promoted the organization’s apolitical “culture”. The Emirates, for their part, tackle Westerners more directly, and call on them to be “reasonable” in their expectations. At COP26, all producing countries felt unwelcome. Today, because they want us to increase our production, we are superheroes again, quipped Energy Minister Suhail Al Mazrouei on March 28. But it doesn’t work like that. »

Saudi Arabia – like the Emirates – also maintains an ambiguous relationship with Russia, which was particularly striking during this crisis. “We are witnessing an empowerment of the Gulf countries on the regional and international scene which involves a diversification of their international relations towards China and Russia”, adds Emma Soubrier.

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“Strategic distancing”

Despite a solid security partnership since 1945, in the form of an “oil for military protection” deal, notably against Iran, the line has blurred between Riyadh and Washington since the American disengagement from the Middle East.. “It is possible that part of Riyadh’s reactions is a message sent to their American partner, in the context of a relationship that is not looking good,” says the researcher.

Symptom of this strategic distancing, Crown Prince and de facto leader of the kingdom Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ) have repeatedly refused to take Joe Biden on the phone in recent days, report it wall street journal. Since the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi commando in Istanbul in 2018, Washington still treats MBS as an outcast. This tension even takes an almost personal turn, in the light of the remarks made by the crown prince in The Atlantic. When the American magazine asks him if President Biden is mistaken about him, MBS replies that he is. “completely equal”, but that he is not in the“America’s interest” to alienate the Saudi monarchy.

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Beyond the simple posture, Saudi appreciates little the signs of openness of the United States with regard to Iran, within the framework of the discussions for a possible return of the agreement on the nuclear. The kingdom also wants Washington to support it more in the war it is waging alongside the United Arab Emirates in Yemen against the Houthi rebellion, in particular by placing it on the list of terrorist organizations.

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