The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the once powerful Soviet Union consolidated the dominance of the US in the international geopolitical scene, which also affected its priorities for the next period. Among many others, the US tried to change their vision and priorities and revised its grand strategy, focusing on the Indo-Pacific region, trying to confront the new regional power China that follows a hegemony strategy in the global arena. The new priorities of the US included a gradual withdrawal of their interest from the Mediterranean and the Middle East, and thus, a power vacuum appeared in that region.
Each gap comes to be filled by another interested stakeholder who seizes the opportunity to project its available overall power and to take advantage of the new opportunity that appears in the external international environment. Thus, also, in this case, other emerging powers found the opportunity to express acute interest in strengthening their geopolitical position and serving long-term geopolitical aims on the international scene. The current period seems to favor the rearrangement of forces and a change in the position of those involved in the international chessboard. The regional recovery of new actors accelerates the further autonomy of various middle states in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East region, among them countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which are looking at a greater strengthening of special geopolitical weight to serve their own national interests.
In this general reclassification of forces and redefinition of geopolitical positions, Russia could not be absent, with special relations with the aforementioned middle power states and, at the same time, emerging powers in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East region. With the new foreseeable developments, the former great power οf the recent past, Russia decided to invade Ukraine in February 2022, as Russian president Vladimir Putin claimed that “Ukraine is home to NATO training missions which are, in fact, foreign military bases”. This is the West’s biggest war in Europe since WWII, with thousands of people dying from both sides and unforeseen damages and losses occurring so far. Russia's invasion of Ukraine increased the climate of uncertainty prevailing in international politics, as it came immediately after the previous crisis with the wave of the global pandemic that lasted for two years with devastating consequences on human lives, the economies of the countries of the world and international trade. The expected balancing and return to normality seems to be delayed, while instead the international community is shaken by the ongoing war in Ukraine with a simultaneous crisis in energy and food for many regions and countries of the world.
Western countries led by the US, the United Kingdom and the European Union have decided to impose economic sanctions against Russia.  In particular, the EU proceeded with a gradual interruption of the supply of Russian natural gas and, as soon as possible, immediate independence from its largest supplier until recently. Russia's share of the market was around 43% until 2021, and since then, it has started to decline rapidly while the market shares of other suppliers have started to grow. This process sped up in 2022 in particular, since mid-2022, Russia's share of EU gas imports has been below 20%. Ιn February 2023, one year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, oil prices steadied as investors looked for “more clarity on the imminent EU embargo on Russian refined fuels, with prices set for a second weekly loss in the absence of clear signs of demand recovery in top consumer China”.
Russia appears to maintain good relations with other states, such as Libya and Turkey, which are likely to have access to the region's resources. In particular with Turkey, Russia cooperates closely in various fields such as the economy, military, energy and defense. Due to its advantageous geopolitical position, Turkey plays a critical role as an energy transit country and appears as a state that could enhance Russian energy security in the wider region of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. Especially in recent years, the two states are planning proper policies to expand their influence zones in the wider region.
In regards to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh and Washington have built together a strong relationship over the last seventy years where both states “share a common concern for regional security, oil exports and imports, and sustainable development”. As per Daniel Yergin, Saudi Arabia is more than just a country for oil. During a conference for energy economics that took place in the capital Riyadh, the experienced vice chairman of S&P Global mentioned that Saudi Arabia is a country for energy and its role in the energy transition is critical since it continues to supply the oil the world requires for its needs, while at the same time the country will have to be much more use of renewables, particularly, solar for generating electricity".
It is seen that Saudi-Russian collaboration has increased the size of the oil cartel and its level of discipline and effectiveness, while imbuing it with a more “hawkish” pursuit of higher oil prices. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia demonstrated increasing support for Russia’s interests while at the same time it appears that it keeps itself at a distance from US influence which tests the basis of a relationship built partly around “oil for security”. Saudi Arabia has shown less willingness to follow the US lead in isolating Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, while during OPEC+ group’s in October 2022, it took a decision to “aggressively cut production despite vehement US opposition is emblematic of this changed dynamic”.
It seems that the effort of rising powers in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East region to further strengthen their position and national interests is at the beginning, and Saudi Arabia's relationship with both the US and Russia has entered a new era of uncertainty, where there is a great strategic power competition at multiple levels.
*Floros Flouros is Associate Professor of International Political Economy: Energy, Security and Climate Change, Department of History, Politics and International Studies, NUP Cyprus
All links accessed on 17/3/2023.
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