The UAE and Saudi Arabia are pursuing their own interests, analysts say, as the US urges a united front against Russia’s Putin.
With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine dominating discussions around the world, the Biden administration has been promoting global unity against what it calls Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “war of choice”.
But despite those efforts, the conflict has highlighted cracks in some of the United States’ most prominent alliances in the Middle East, notably with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia.
The latest manifestation of this apparent rift came last week when the UAE hosted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad despite repeated warnings from Washington against normalising ties with the government in Damascus. It was Assad’s first visit to an Arab country since the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, and it came weeks after the Syrian president expressed full support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“Assad coming to the UAE, shortly after the Gulf Arab country voted to abstain from a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine last month, tells us that the Emiratis are very serious about asserting their autonomy from the United States,” said Giorgio Cafiero, CEO of Gulf State Analytics, a Washington, DC-based geopolitical risk consultancy.
Abu Dhabi’s abstention last month from the US-backed United Nations Security Council proposal on Ukraine was followed by anonymously-sourced media reports alleging that Saudi and Emirati leaders rebuffed calls from US President Joe Biden. And last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia is in talks with China to ditch the US dollar in favour of the yuan to conduct oil transactions with Beijing.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia appear to be sending a message to the US, Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a Middle East fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, told Al Jazeera: “‘We’re going to act upon our interests and not what you think our interests are.’”