There is important work to do. We have to follow through with them while simultaneously fighting the virus.
One such situation took place on Friday last week. Syrian President Bashar Assad and United Arab Emirates (UAE) Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed held a telephone call. This was a first since 2011, when the Syrian crisis first broke out.
This step that came after nine years represents the expectation of a new development in regional politics.
The Assad-bin Zayed phone call involved a discussion on the epidemic and the UAE promised to help Damascus. This is the new trend these days, including political matters in humanitarian solidarity. We can also call it camouflage; they are the geopolitical spatters of the epidemic.
If we had to briefly chronologize the telephone call, it would be as follows: When the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011, the UAE closed down its embassy and withdrew from the country. It reopened the embassy in 2018. Former Arab League Secretary-General and Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa last month said that Syria might return to the Arab League at any moment. U.S. perception of Syria and UAE-Russia relations that recently rose to “special” status both played an important role in cultivating Abu Dhabi-Damascus relations. We can also add to these Libyan feudal chief Khalifa Haftar’s opening an embassy in Syria in recent days.
Meanwhile, there is not much to say about the state of Turkey-UAE relations – they are bad. They are constantly setting up games to isolate Turkey in the Middle East. Their connections to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terror group and its wings in Syria and Iraq are no secret. Thus, starting from its role in the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, Ankara has a special page in its little black book for the UAE. Hence, following the developments we listed is crucial.
Now, we also need to figure out Russia’s role in all this.
First, Russia will be quite pleased with the UAE’s economic aid and lending a helping hand to Damascus. This will relieve Moscow. This is a secondary problem. The primary problem is who asked the UAE to take an active role in the Syria game?
The phone call in question took place after a visit Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergey Naryshkin – who is also close to President Vladimir Putin – paid to Dubai more than a month ago. Everything was discussed here. (“Russian foreign intelligence chief focuses on war on terror at talks with UAE counterparts,” Feb. 12, 2020, TASS)
It is a known fact that Naryshkin spoke to UAE secret service directors as well as the prime minister during this visit.
Syria’s return to the Arab League is going to open up a strategic field for the Damascus regime. Though it may not be very strong, it is not insignificant either. Israel’s internal instability, which has been continuing for some time now, led to an obligatory state of union brought on by the virus. The new government is going to waste no time in coming to the battlefield, primarily in Iran and Syria. Moscow is also continuing to “follow” Idlib. The very same day that the crown prince called Damascus, Russian Foreign Affairs was reminding Ankara of Idlib! (“Russia urges Turkey to continue real separation of militants from opposition in Idlib,” March 27, 2020, Sputnik) None of this is coincidence.
The UAE is not a critical actor, but those around it are: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, election-term U.S., and Russia. Normalization in Syria-UAE relations alone is not significant; however, the balances we mentioned have the potential to adjust regional positionings.
Such grouping at a time when those infected with the epidemic and deaths are starting to appear in Syria is a warning; these should not dampen Turkey’s ability to fight against more than one problem simultaneously and in equal strength, even though it is starting to introvert with the epidemic.
The timing of plummeting oil prices with the epidemic continues to be a mystery for me. Hand in hand with the epidemic, oil first dragged the price per barrel to $20, and then propelled finance markets into the same suffocating atmosphere.
In an atmosphere in which U.S. oil production has doubled since 2009 – 12 million barrels per day – Russia and Saudi Arabia could have concluded negotiations with an agreement. However, one left the table due to “U.S. benefit” and the other with the impact of the U.S. Subsequently, they made decisions contrary to the agreement and thus, the oil market collapsed. Now, oil prices are heavily harming their producers.
Eventually, it seems as all this will still serve the U.S.; but like in the UAE-Syria game, let us take note of the actors playing from “behind the curtains” in this event too.
The first character driving the conflict is Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin. He may not be taking steps that will harm global policies despite Kremlin, but he can influence them. Sechin is a nationalist and, compared to most people, he is a polymath that has Moscow under his influence.
On the Saudi Arabian side, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the one who left the table. This explains the U.S. effect. In the last OPEC meeting, Riyadh wanted to revive the U.S. oil industry, but it was stopped by Russia.
Meanwhile, the conflict is generating advantages to many countries including Turkey. Oil prices are dropping every two days. However, this situation may end in the next OPEC meeting or even before it.
There are signs: First, Rosneft sold all its assets in Venezuela and terminated all operations in the country. Then, on the same day, a $4-billion new oil company was launched in Russia!
Second, Putin called Trump on Monday. The statement that came from the White House is, “During the phone call between President Trump and President Putin with respect to the global oil crisis, they reached a mutual agreement to balance energy markets.”
This will be a critical adjustment for Riyadh as well. Let us recall that certain members of the dynasty and military officials were arrested following the decline in oil prices.