Many countries have found themselves in a difficult position regarding the stand they should take on the current war in Ukraine, particularly those who maintain close ties with both the United States and Russia.
The abstention by the United Arab Emirates, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, on a resolution presented by the United States to condemn the Russian “invasion” of Ukraine, along with China and India, was a clear example of the difficult situation several Arab countries face. Abu Dhabi is a very close American ally, and hosts one of the US’s largest military bases in the oil-rich Gulf region. Yet it also maintains close relations with Russia, and coordinates closely with Moscow on energy issues and regional conflicts.
In this framework, on Sunday Egypt called for an Arab League emergency meeting at the level of permanent representatives to discuss the fast developments in Ukraine following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to start a military operation there a week ago.
As soon as the Russian tanks started rolling across the border, officially upon the request of two breakaway Ukrainian regions supported by Moscow, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry asserted the importance of advocating dialogue and diplomatic solutions to politically settle the Russian-Ukrainian crisis.
“Following a diplomatic path would lead to preserving international security and stability,” the Foreign Ministry declared, “prevent further escalation of the crisis, and avert the aggravation of humanitarian and economic conditions in that area and the world at large.”
Indeed the Arab countries are not a direct party to this war, which for a change is not taking part on their own territory. However, the effects of this dangerous military escalation in Europe will certainly have staggering negative effects on this region, like the rest of the world, particularly in economic terms.
Meanwhile, many of the region’s wars and conflicts that require international cooperation and intervention, such as the situation in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Palestine and with Iran’s nuclear programme, will either come to a standstill or deteriorate further as the world focuses on the developing war in Ukraine. There is no question that it is in the interest of the Arab countries that this war should end through a diplomatic solution.
Ironically, countries in the region that have been a stage for wars and conflicts for decades, are the ones now appealing to the world’s superpowers to show restraint and resort to diplomacy. This is yet another “sign of the times,” and clear evidence of the changing world order that Arab countries must deal with.
Whatever the future scenario is in relation to the Ukrainian government, Russia, members of the US-led NATO military alliance and the entire world are all aware that the ongoing war is not just about Ukraine. The Russian president wants to redraw the map of Europe that was imposed on the former Soviet Union after its collapse in 1991. Considering the growing Russian economy and influence, and the obvious retreat of the United States from the world stage, Putin has probably calculated that now is the right time to make this military move, and change the rules that allowed the United States and NATO to bring their missiles and advanced military equipment very close to Russia’s borders.
For many years, and particularly during the Cold War, the Middle East region was the battleground for proxy wars between the two superpowers. When that era ended, and for the past 30 years, it was the United States that unilaterally launched wars in the Middle East, occupying Afghanistan and Iraq, and stressing it was the only reliable broker for all of the region’s conflicts, starting with the Palestine-Israel conflict and ending with Iran’s nuclear programme. Russia and China opposed those wars, but only in diplomatic terms, and were not expected to go to war against the United States to prevent its invasion of Iraq, for example.
Yet the era of US dominance over world affairs has apparently also come to an end, the signs of a worldwide US retreat having begun with former US president Barrack Obama succeeding a warmonger who launched “wars of choice” in order to avenge the 11 September, 2001 terrorist attacks against New York and Washington.
Obama pulled US troops out of Iraq, and started a similar process in Afghanistan. At that time, current US President Joe Biden was vice president. While the total opposite of Obama, Donald Trump – his successor – continued the trend of US withdrawal from the Middle East, even offering a price tag for US allies, not just in Europe and Asia, but also for Arab countries, if they wanted to keep US troops on their territories for protection. Thus, it was no wonder that Russia and China would move in to fill in the void.
However, the military escalation in Ukraine, that has reached the stage of world powers reminding each other of their nuclear capabilities, cannot be but extremely alarming. World powers who have long preached diplomacy and restraint to others certainly have a lot of work to do on their own territory this time.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 March, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.