While the Arab League expressed its concern over the war in Ukraine and called to resolve the crisis “through dialogue and diplomacy,” the shared statement released by the 22-member body, however, did not mention Russia explicitly.
The 22-member body held an emergency meeting on Monday in Cairo, at the request of its host country, Egypt.
Most Middle Eastern countries have actually refrained from criticizing the invasion due to their various interests.
Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria – which has been supported militarily by Russia for at least seven years – was fast to recognize the independence that Russian President Vladimir Putin declared over two separatist regions in Eastern Ukraine.
Iran’s foreign minister wrote on Twitter that the crisis in Ukraine is rooted in “NATO provocations.” He added that Iran does not see “resorting to war as a solution” and called for a ceasefire. Iranian media has been referring to the Russian invasion as the “Ukraine crisis.”
Regional powerhouses like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt – all of whom have signed arms deals with Russia in recent years – did not condemn the Kremlin’s actions so far. The UAE abstained from a U.S.-backed UN Security Council resolution on Friday that “deplores in the strongest terms” the Russian aggression against Ukraine. The Kingdoms of Bahrain, Jordan, and Oman are also sitting on the fence.
Qatar and Kuwait denounced the violence taking place in Ukraine but stopped short of criticizing Russia.
In a move that surprised Moscow, Lebanon issued a condemnation last week against Russia’s military operations and called on Moscow to halt them at once. In reaction, Russia’s embassy in Lebanon wrote on Facebook: “The statement… surprised us by violating the policy of self-distancing and by taking one side against another in these events, noting that Russia spared no effort in contributing to the advancement and stability of the Lebanese Republic.”
Middle Eastern countries also differ on the impact of the crisis over their economies. Soaring energy and wheat prices are taking a toll on poorer countries in the region, whereas wealthier Arab countries are exploring opportunities to expand their oil and gas exports to Europe.
According to a Reuters report, Ukraine was forecast to account for 12% of global wheat exports this year, 16% for corn, 18% for barley and 19% for rapeseed. Along with Russia – the world’s top wheat exporter – both account for roughly 29% of the global wheat export market. The disruption of grain exports through the Black Sea is expected to lead to shortages of food and hit supply chains in the world, noted the Financial Times.
Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco are already affected by wheat prices that have soared since the beginning of the war. Syrian authorities saw danger signs in rising oil and commodities prices and the Assad regime decided to cut spending in an effort to reduce the impact, the Associated Press wrote.
Meanwhile, oil-rich countries in the region are attempting to capitalize on opportunities that the war has created. Qatar has been exploring ways to provide short-term emergency gas to Germany if Russia decides to cut off supply. Germany imports 55% of its natural gas from Russia. Italy is the second-largest natural gas importer in Europe after Germany, with 45% of its gas coming from Russia. Italy’s foreign minister announced on Monday that the country is set to increase its imports from Algeria, which has expressed its readiness to provide more supplies to Europe as an alternative to Russia. Libya’s UN-backed government also said that it could become a major gas alternate exporter.
As oil prices reached a seven-year record price above $100 per barrel, Saudi Arabia indicated that it will not increase production to bring down the prices. Saudi’s oil company Aramco offered to provide oil to any European country that would need help considering the crisis.