The Impact of the Ukraine War on the Middle East

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With the Ukraine war, which is considered one of the most important milestones in recent world history, some basic principles of international politics and the discourses accompanying them have changed. The previous milestone was the September 11 terrorist attacks against the US hegemony. The September 11 attacks ended the political discourse of the “end of history” and the period of “ultimate victory” won by the liberal West. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the era of the “global war on terror” that began with the 9/11 terrorist attacks is now over. The “global rivalry between global powers” is increasing, and the US, Russia and China are the main players in the new period.

Since global rivalry has prompted world powers to follow Realpolitik in their foreign policies, many regional powers such as Brazil, India, Germany and Turkey are trying to increase their autonomy to protect their national interests against these world powers. Most global powers tend to violate fundamental principles of international law, rules and norms. Not only Russia and China, but also Western world powers often violate the basic principles of the international system they have created. Regional powers and small states do not trust the big powers; now the Ukraine war has shown the world why even central powers shouldn’t trust the great powers.

The Ukraine war has emerged as more than a regional problem, it is a global one. The conflict marks the beginning of a new period and has major global implications. The Middle East region is not exempt from this impact. However, unlike most European countries, the countries of the Middle East have maintained relatively neutral policies towards the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While continental European countries, questioning the effectiveness and importance of the NATO alliance, have rallied around the US and consolidated the western front, Middle Eastern countries have not changed their balanced stance on the crisis.

Turkey’s “strategic neutrality”.

Turkey is pursuing a policy of “strategic neutrality” during the Ukraine war. Turkey has repeatedly said that while it considers the Russian military intervention illegitimate and a violation of international rules, it is pushing for the crisis to be resolved through diplomatic means. Following an active and flexible policy, Ankara offered to mediate between the warring factions and managed to bring together the foreign ministers of both countries in Antalya.

Through diplomatic negotiations, Turkey has tried to prevent the spillover effects of the war. The US and other Western countries have realized that Turkey has not sided with Russia and is still a NATO ally. That is, Turkey’s place in the global rivalry is obvious, and its place is with the West. Turkey is not aiming for a new alliance. If Western countries restore trust between the West and Turkey and recognize the country’s strategic autonomy, Turkey could play a more effective role in its region and resist Russian and Iranian expansionism in the Middle East.

Sanctions and nuclear deal

On the other hand, Iran is in a very interesting position. Iran was close to signing a nuclear deal with the US, but the war in Ukraine has dramatically changed the ground for a new deal. While the US was ready to sign the deal, Russia blocked it. In response to the sanctions against the system, Moscow has mobilized all its capacities on all platforms to undermine the functioning of the system. Additionally, if a deal is reached with Iran, the US is likely to pull out of the Middle East as Washington looks to scale back its presence in the region and focus on its trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic ties. This new regional environment could create further problems for the US and particularly for its regional allies such as Israel and the Gulf States.

Power vacuum in Syria

Moscow is expected to advance in the Middle East if Russia is bogged down in Ukraine, an important detail for the Syrian crisis in particular. In the case of Syria, Iran will try to fill the power vacuum and continue to compete with other players such as Turkey. If this scenario materializes, the US and other Western countries alongside Israel could assess the situation and adjust accordingly. As Russia focuses on the Ukrainian front, Iran will exert more pressure in the region. Therefore, she is not happy about the normalization processes in the region. Iran has been concerned about the future of the region and sees the normalization process as a development that will damage its regional perspective.

Israel is another Middle Eastern power that has maintained a relatively neutral policy on the Ukraine war, as it has good relations with both sides. Similar to other regional states, Israel pursues a middle-ground policy. It has different political preferences in the region. For example, the US has prioritized the fight against international terrorism in the Syrian crisis, while Israel has tried to thwart Iranian expansionism.

approach to the Arab world

After all, almost all Arab countries are pursuing a relatively neutral policy towards the Ukraine war. They have not followed in the footsteps of western countries. There are several reasons for their neutral policy. First, after the Arab uprisings and revolutions, they lost their trust in Western countries, especially the United States. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have deepened its distrust of the West. They no longer see Western countries as reliable partners.

Second, Western countries often question the regional policies of Arab states. Even traditionally undisputed Gulf states like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia are often criticized by Western countries for their policies on regional crises like Yemen. Third, Russia and China have emerged as better alternatives and more reliable partners as these two global players do not question their policies. The bilateral relationship between the Arab states and Moscow and Beijing is based purely on interests without any political conditions.

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