The formation of foreign policy relations against the backdrop of the current military conflict between Russia and Ukraine and strained relations with the US and the EU requires competent and balanced decisions from the UAE government. Having no obvious confrontation with other countries, the UAE, nevertheless, finds itself involved in geopolitical issues due to its status as a global participant in the world economy. In addition, the situation in the oil market, largely coordinated by Arab investors, is also a reason to take into account the country’s relations with other states, with which interactions have deteriorated. This report is aimed at identifying the prospects for the UAE’s cooperation with Russia and the US/EU, identifying the likely outcomes of these partnerships, and outlining the strategic decisions to be made in this work.
Perspectives of Preserving Strategic Partnerships
Due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, the UAE is in a difficult position. First, to date, the country has a number of contractual agreements with Russian companies involved in the oil industry. Even apart from the ethical aspects associated with the condemnation of undisguised military aggression by Russia, maintaining business relationships at the same level is challenging to implement. As Cornwell (2022) argues, while remaining Russia’s partner in OPEC+, the UAE has to navigate between political and socio-economic factors. The position of neutrality that the country’s leadership is trying to maintain will sooner or later have to be violated. Numerous sanctions imposed on the Russian business market, including in the oil and gas sector, create difficulties for continuing cooperation at the same level. Russia, in turn, is interested in finding allies other than China. According to Sukhankin (2022), the UAE may be one of the few states for Russia, which allows the assets of Russian companies to be preserved without sanctions deterrents. However, for the UAE, such a prospect carries neither practical nor ethical value, which deepens the gap in the relationship.
Regarding strategic partnerships with the US/EU, against the backdrop of the military conflict in Eastern Europe, interactions between the Eastern and Western blocs can be described as more constructive than before. By refusing to increase oil production to maximum capacity, the UAE government has shown that it does not intend to engage in political intrigue (Al-Ketbi 2022). The recent visit of US President Joe Biden to the UAE has highlighted the key points of cooperation between the two states, although, as Al-Ketbi (2022) argues, misunderstandings remain. Due to the unstable social situation concerning different issues, the prospects for successful interaction can develop. For instance, Mason (2022) mentions not only the military conflict between Russia and Ukraine but also other factors that are crucial to address jointly. They include combating the COVID-19 pandemic, eliminating the consequences of climate change, green energy manufacturing, maintaining nuclear deals, and many other topics that can be addressed successfully in partnerships (Mason 2022). Without being involved in geopolitical disputes, the UAE can benefit from collaboration with Western partners and use their financial potential for the benefit of the country, thereby enhancing the national socio-economic sectors.
Along with the UAE, Western countries are also interested in maintaining positive interactions with the Eastern partner. Global security is an aspect discussed today at most meetings of world agencies and organizations. As Maher (2022) states, the EU leaders intend to intensify work to expand contacts with the countries of the Persian Gulf, including the UAE, and address not only political but also trade, innovation, and other interests. The country’s many ports, for instance, in Dubai, are important strategic trading hubs, and the EU sees great potential in building sustainable supply chains using local markets (Maher 2022). With an ambiguous relationship with Iran, Washington assesses the UAE as a more important strategic partner and, given the aforementioned oil deals, views Abu Dhabi as a potential ally. Thus, strategic partnerships between the UAE and the Western bloc are possible, and current socio-political events increase the urgency of issues related to the prospects for developing partnerships.
Risks and Opportunities of Maintaining Partnerships
While maintaining relationships with Russia in the field of energy security, the UAE risks facing a number of difficulties. First, being under the US and EU sanctions, Russia cannot guarantee sustainable currency trading. Vladimir Putin’s statements about the transfer of payments for gas in the national currency (rubles) require strategic partners to be cautious since the threat of significant costs arises (Sukhankin 2022). Without stable access to international currencies, the Russian government will not be able to conduct international trade at the pre-war level. As a result, the UAE runs the risk of facing not only ethical but also economic challenges. Any trade contacts with Russia must be minimized, thereby demonstrating a position of solidarity with the world community regarding the inadmissibility of the military invasion of Ukraine. In this case, the UAE will lose an important partner in the oil industry, at least temporarily. At the same time, this will become an occasion to search for new channels and markets, for instance, in the western direction.
Regarding interaction with the US and the EU, there are also some risks for the UAE. Cooperation with Western partners can bring difficulties for the sale of export goods in the required volume. Unable to conduct open trade with Russia, the UAE is forced to adapt to new conditions. According to Irish (2022), this is one of the reasons why the UAE government does not directly criticize the Russian government and Russians in general. As Maher (2022) states, the EU sees the Gulf countries as partners, which, however, are not a priority because the main share of trade interaction is with China and India. By strengthening partnerships with the US, the UAE risks being drawn into an open geopolitical conflict with Russia. If Abu Dhabi does not recognize Russia’s status as a terrorist state, further sanctions may follow from Washington (Sukhankin 2022). This frees the UAE from trade dependence on the US but, at the same time, complicates the opportunities for full-fledged trade. Thus, priorities should be based on local interests and not on the consideration of helping other countries.
International Relations Strategy
While taking into account the potential costs of making new strategic decisions in light of existing geopolitical divisions, the UAE should pursue prudent international relations policies. Otherwise, disagreements with the world’s superpowers could lead to economic and political hardship, including the inability to conduct free and profitable trade. As an optimal principle of interaction, as an international relations strategy, the balance of power should be applied as an approach to maintaining the country’s sustainable position in the global market.
The relevance of such a strategy is due to the prospect of protecting national interests under the influence of numerous deterrents and geopolitical disagreements. Bianco (2022) notes that, given the imbalances in the energy market that existed even before the war between Russia and Ukraine, the UAE is forced to defend its interests without making full concessions to Western countries. It is beneficial for the US and the EU that the eastern countries stop any trade relations with Russia. The UAE, having maintained such neutrality since the start of the war, has become embroiled in geopolitical disputes. According to Bianco (2022), Washington’s numerous attempts to urge Abu Dhabi to increase oil production are proof of this. By pursuing the balance of power strategy, the UAE could demonstrate to Western alliances that it is not ready to engage in controversial schemes. Regarding interaction with Russia, such a strategy is also justified since, by focusing on its own capacities, the UAE can stimulate the Kremlin to rethink the consequences for the Russian economy if current barriers are ignored. Therefore, the balance of power is an appropriate international relations approach.
The war between Russia and Ukraine has aggravated the situation in the international arena and created significant difficulties for maintaining normal relations between the West and the East. The UAE, adhering to neutrality, has become involved in geopolitical schemes, and the attempts of the US and the EU to strengthen partnerships with the Arab country confirm the change of interests. The UAE has strategic contacts with both Western states and Russia. Along with opportunities to strengthen individual trade directions and economic areas, risks remain largely due to distinctive positions on political issues. Maintaining the balance of power strategy is the best practice for the UAE to secure its national interests and not succumb to excessive pressure from either Western or Eastern partners.
Al-Ketbi, Ebtesam. 2022. “Prospects of UAE-US Relations in a New Strategic Environment.” Emirates Policy Center, Web.
Bianco, Cinzia. 2022. “Balance of Power: Gulf States, Russia, and European Energy Security.” European Council of Foreign Relations, Web.
Cornwell, Alexander. 2022. “U.S. Ties with Gulf Partner UAE Are Being Tested, Envoy Says.” Reuters, Web.
Irish, John. 2022. “UAE Defends Stance on Russian Individuals, Talking to U.S.” Reuters, Web.
Maher, Ahmed. 2022. “EU Unveils First Long-Term Strategy to Shape Future Gulf Ties.” The National News, Web.
Mason, Robert. 2022. “The European Union’s “Strategic Partnership with the Gulf”: Half-Speed Ahead.” Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, Web.
Sukhankin, Sergey. 2022. “The UAE, Russia’s Escape Hatch from International Sanctions.” Gulf International Forum, Web.