03/04/2022, 14.42
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Attack on Ukraine: UAE between Moscow and Washington

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), a non-permanent member of the Security Council (2022-23), abstained from the resolution condemning Russia but voted in favour in the General Assembly, a symbolic gesture. The Gulf state has to protect its trade with Russia (US$ 4 billion) without antagonising the West. Catholics in the country pray for peace.

Abu Dhabi (AsiaNews) – The United Arab Emirates (UAE[*]) abstained from voting in favour of a resolution condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. The resolution was defeated because of Russia’s veto. But just a few days later, at the United Nations General Assembly when the resolution had more of a symbolic value, the UAE voted in favour, deploring Russia’s invasion.

This inconsistency embodies the UAE’s difficult attempt to find a balance over Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, one that would protect its economic interests while trying to avoid irritating Moscow, Washington and the West, which reacted with harsh sanctions.

Along with Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain, the UAE are NATO partners within the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative and have strong relations with the United States; however, it is also Russia’s top trading partner among the six monarchies that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with total trade reaching US$ 4 billion in 2021.

Russian oligarchs have been increasingly attracted by the emirates as a tourist destination, now reopening after two years of closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a place for investment in infrastructure and real estate, especially Dubai.

Analysts explain that the two different votes in the UN – in the Council and the Assembly – reflect the UAE’s desperate attempt to maintain an even foreign policy, trying to appear neutral while nurturing ties with Moscow, even more so since the Ukraine crisis broke out.

Such an ambivalence can be seen in the UAE’s decision to provide US$ 5 million to the United Nations for humanitarian aid and assistance to refugees.

In a statement, the UAE Foreign Ministry noted “the deteriorating humanitarian situation for civilians” and the need for “safe passage for those seeking to leave the country without discrimination or obstacles.”

For Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the UAE president and chairman of the National Human Rights Committee, “taking sies would only lead to more violence.”

At the same time, in exchange for the UAE’s neutral position, Russia for the first time voted in favour of an arms embargo against the Houthi, who are opposed to the Saudi-led Arab coalition in the Yemeni conflict.

In recent history, from the Middle East to North Africa, the UAE has sided more often with Russia than with the United States, including the rapprochement with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Libya’s Khalifa Haftar, both backed by Russia.

The day before the invasion, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his UAE counterpart, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan discussed important issues, expressing similar views.

On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, discussed ways to ensure stability to the energy market, which, together with wheat, seems to be the most likely to suffer from the conflict.

In fact, gas and oil prices have soared recently, with gas reaching an all-time high of US$ 221 per megawatt-hour before falling back while in Europe, Brent crude futures hit US$ 118, the highest level since 2013.

For their part, the OPEC + countries (which includes Russia) have decided to maintain a gradual approach to increasing production in order to avoid any shocks.

Amid the tensions and uncertainty over the future, the Catholic community in the UAE has heeded the Pope Francis’s appeal for peace during Lent.

Bishop Paul Hinder, vicar of southern Arabia[†] and apostolic administrator for northern Arabia[‡], told AsiaNews that he "asked priests and pastors to add a prayer for peace on the liturgical agenda.”

“The whole world is in shock,” he added; “anxious about the war between Ukraine and Russia. It is time for us to show our solidarity with the people in Ukraine and support them with our prayer.”

[*] The UAE IS a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council elected for the period 2022-23.

[†] UAE, Oman and Yemen.

[‡] Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain.

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