Ukraine war: How the Middle East is becoming Russia’s economic lifeline
23 February 2023
Middle East Eye, 23 February 2023
by Sean Mathews / Photo credits: MEE
The conflict has boosted the Middle East's independence and leverage, opening the door for the Kremlin to avoid isolation.
Russia is humming along in the Middle East, pitching arms sales, building nuclear plants, and convening summits, underscoring how one year after the Ukraine invasion, ties to the region have endured - and in some cases expanded - confounding western attempts to isolate the Kremlin.
In Europe, Russia is bogged down and bloodied by an invasion that has left anywhere from 100,00-200,000 of its troops killed or wounded, according to varying western estimates.
Meanwhile, Nato is closing ranks around Kyiv, upping defence supplies to include Leopard 2 tanks and Patriot missiles.
Aided by an unusually warm winter, the European Union is rushing to wean itself off Russian fossil fuels, foiling the Kremlin’s attempts - for now - to weaponise its massive oil and gas resources.
But in the Middle East, the picture is quite different.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has been welcomed in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE. Even Jordan, which is dependent on the US for aid, received the Kremlin's top diplomat and has continued to praise Russia’s "stabilising" role in Syria.
"While the West continues to see the war in Ukraine as a historical inflection point, it's clear the Middle East sees it as a far-off regional war," Gregory Gause, an expert on Middle Eastern politics at Texas A&M University, told Middle East Eye.
Cinzia Bianco, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, says Russia's enduring ties are a case of regional leaders embracing “newfound strategic ambiguity," a move she says they believe will pay off with no obvious end in sight to the war.
On Monday, Russian defence companies pulled out all the stops for a flashy arms show in Abu Dhabi where they displayed "kamikaze drones" like those deployed in Ukraine. They even talked up their battlefield usage as an endorsement.
"Most of the presented products have already been tested in real combat conditions. This is one of the main advantages of Russian weapons over competitors," said Sergey Chemezov, chief of Russia's state-owned Rostec defence conglomerate, according to the company's press service.
In Egypt, Russia's state-owned nuclear company Rosatom is ploughing ahead with the construction of a nuclear power plant.
In addition, the Arab world's most populous country was initially seen as being one of those most vulnerable to the war's fallout due to its links to Russia and its dependence on imports. Between them, Ukraine and Russia had supplied more than 80 percent of Egypt’s wheat imports and Cairo's already perilous finances were immediately hit by rising commodity prices and a drop in tourism.