Russia Invades Ukraine: The Middle East Reacts
How has the Middle East region responded to the Russian attack? What did regional leaders say? What are the consequences for the Middle Eastern countries?
Hello readers. Welcome back to Inshallah, your newsletter about news from the Middle East delivered to your inbox every week.
I am Dario Sabaghi, ready to handpick for you the most newsworthy stories of the week. Subscribe to be up to date about the latest development in the Middle East. It's free.
This is not an ordinary Inshallah newsletter. As you may know, Russia invaded Ukraine yesterday, February 24, 2022.
This date will enter history as Europe hasn't witnessed a war of such significance for decades.
But the conflict is not only going to affect Ukraine and the European geopolitical balance, but also the Middle East region.
Russian troops may enter Kyiv, Ukraine's capital city, by today. So, let's go to recap what happened yesterday, and then let's see how Middle Eastern countries have reacted to the invasion, and then analyze how the conflict could affect the Middle East.
Note: Due to chaotic hours and the overwhelming amount of news, some reports taken from new media outlets and news agencies may not be accurate and verified.
Russia-Ukraine conflict in 5 shots
In A pre-recorded TV speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced at 6 am (Russia time zone, GMT+3/ 5 am in Ukraine) the start of a "special military operation" in Ukraine. Minutes later, several Ukrainian cities were under attack.
The attack follows months of speculation about Russia's intentions as it massed tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine's border and recognized the sovereignty of the self-proclaimed People's Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk on February 21, 2022.
Russian force launched multiple missile and air raids and a three-pronged invasion from the north, east, and south that appeared to be targeting an array of military objectives to destroy or seize. They also launched several attacks on Kyiv's capital and other cities, including Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine. Several sources report Russian forces also captured the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
Ukrainian government reports that over 100 people have been killed so far in Russia's invasion, with fighting widespread across the country and Russian forces advancing towards the capital, Kyiv. However, the death toll must be confirmed. Thousands of Ukrainians have left the country, and as many as 100,000 are internally displaced after fleeing their homes.
As the Ukrainian government wants to join NATO and European Union, Russia aims to tear Ukraine away from the West's sphere of influence. Experts and analysts say Putin wants to replace the Ukrainian government with a new pro-Russian government in the short term. But in the long term, Russia is not just focused on Ukraine. It demands that NATO return to its pre-1997 borders.
How did the Middle East leaders react to the Russian invasion?
Iran: Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian tweeted that the Ukraine crisis was "rooted in Nato provocations." In a similar but slightly longer statement, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh added that "the Eurasia region is on the verge of entering a pervasive crisis" because of NATO's movements led by the United States. Read more on al-Jazeera.
Israel: Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said: "Russia's attack on Ukraine is a serious violation of international order. Israel condemns the attack."
Egypt: The Egyptian embassy in Ukraine urged its citizens to stay at home, keep hold of their identity documents and "follow the instructions from the Ukrainian authorities until the situation stabilizes."
Turkey: Turkey called on Russia to immediately stop its "unjust and unlawful" military operation against Ukraine, with the Turkish foreign ministry accusing Moscow of flagrantly violating international law. On Thursday, Vasyl Bodnar, Ukraine's ambassador to Ankara, said that his country expected solidarity from the Nato member and that Turkey should not remain impartial after Russia launched an offensive against its neighbor. Bodnar also called on Ankara for help, asking it to close the Bosphorus straits to Russian ships and close its air space to Russian planes.
Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia urged its citizens in Ukraine to reach out to the embassy in Kyiv as soon as possible.
United Arab Emirates: According to a US State Department statement, the UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the Russian attack on Ukraine via telephone. February 25. It said that the duo discussed Russia's "premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified attack" against Ukraine and "the importance of building a strong international response to support Ukrainian sovereignty through the UN Security Council.However, On Sheikh Abdullah stressed the "strength" of ties to Russia in a phone call with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in a phone call, on Wednesday, Feb.23. According to reports, the minister discussed the friendship relations and strategic partnership between the two countries with Lavrov. They also "reviewed a number of regional and international developments and issues of common interest."
Qatar: Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani received a phone call on Thursday from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who briefed him on the latest developments in Ukraine, Qatar's state news agency said. The statement added that Al-Thani called on all parties to exercise restraint and resolve the crisis through diplomatic means. Read more on Alarabiya News.
Syria: The state-owned news agency said that Syria decided to cut spending to reduce the impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, concerned that oil and wheat prices could sharply increase. Officials chose to manage reserves of main staples such as wheat, sugar, cooking oil, and rice for the next two months, closely watch the distribution of the commodities and ration them. Read more on the Associated Press.
Are you still with me? Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work. Continue to read this post.
How the Middle East could be affected by the Russian invasion
First of all, I suggest you read my latest article published on the Middle East Eye, where I have contributed to reporting the stories of many students from the Middle East and North Africa. They are scrambling to find a way out of Ukraine following the Russian invasion.
I spoke with several Lebanese students in Ukraine who can't go back to Lebanon, not only because most of the roads and the airspace to civilian flights are closed but also because Lebanon's economic crisis has hit the finance of their parents. As a result, they can't send them money due to the devaluation of the local current, which lost over 90 percent of its value, and the restrictions on their bank account. Many have told me their parents didn't send any money since the economic crisis in late 2019. Therefore, some had to run into debt in Ukraine to survive and pay university fees to continue their studies for a better future. More articles about this specific topic will come.
Can the Middle East region provide energy to Europe amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict?
Saudi Arabia, the world's top exporter of crude oil, and Qatar, one of the leading liquified natural gas (LNG) exporters, have seen high demand for their energy supplies as tensions escalate in eastern Europe - and the invasion has only turned up the notch. Energy prices surged, with oil jumping to more than $105 per barrel and a key natural gas benchmark for northwest Europe rising by 30 percent. Although several US and European officers asked Qatar the feasibility to supply gas to Europe in order to cut any energy-based relations with Russia (from which Europe import most of the natural gas), Qatar's energy minister has warned that no country can replace Russian gas supplies to Europe with liquified natural gas (LNG). Furthermore, Saudi Arabia, a member of the OPEC+ alliance of oil-producing countries, has shown no interest in pumping more oil. Before starting the conflict in Eastern Europe, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara said interested in bringing Israeli gas to Europe through Turkey. However, this option doesn't seem feasible in the short term.
More insights: I have personally asked Roudi Baroudi, CEO of Energy & Environment Holding and oil and gas expert with over 40 years of experience in the field, about the plan's feasibility to supply energy to Europe from the region. He told me that no country in the world could quickly replace the Russian gas in Europe. Around 18 European countries depend on Russian gas. They can obtain additional supplies from Qatar or Algeria but can't cut ties with the Russian energy supply.
How can the international sanctions on Russia affect the Middle East region?
Experts say Middle Eastern companies operating in the Western countries' markets will struggle to comply with sanctions imposed on Russia. If large Russian state banks are targeted, the impact could be considerable. Also, Israel has expressed concern that US sanctions against Russia could harm Israel's security interests in Syria, where it coordinates operations with Moscow.
Can the Russian invasion of Ukraine generate a wheat crisis in the MENA region?
As Ukraine and Russia provide much of the world's wheat, countries across the Middle East are likely to be hit with price rises if supplies are disrupted. In particular, a wheat crisis would affect North African countries. Egypt, the world's largest importer of wheat, imported 12.5m tonnes in 2020-21, with almost 85 percent coming from Russia and Ukraine. Therefore, it could be severely affected. But also, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, which are also significant wheat importers, are expected to be impacted.
Is the Russian invasion the end of Iran's Nuclear deal talks?
Russia's invasion of Ukraine risks jeopardizing diplomacy to restore Iran's nuclear deal at the final hurdle, as world powers at the negotiating table find themselves on opposite sides of Europe's most significant security crisis since World War II. Both Russia and the US say they've worked together at the Iran nuclear talks and have been able to compartmentalize their other differences at the negotiating table. However, an Iranian foreign-policy expert who's been a vocal critic of the nuclear deal predicted diplomats would be able to protect the talks from the deepening hostility between the US and Russia. Read the full analysis on Bloomberg.
The impact of the escalating conflict on Tourism in the Middle East
The tourist sector in the Middle East could be severely affected by the escalating war. Turkish and Egyptian beach resorts ìattract thousands of Russian tourists. Tour operators and investors are working with agents in other countries to assess the impact of the crisis on their industry. Read more about the effects of the crisis on Egyptian tourism on the Middle East Eye.
That's all for this week. Thanks for reading Inshallah. Share this article and subscribe to be up to date about news from the Middle East every week. It's free.
My name is Dario Sabaghi, a freelance journalist. I am interested in human rights and international news focusing on the MENA region.
Check out my work at dariosabaghi.com.
You can follow me on Twitter: @DarioSabaghi
Did I miss any important news from the Middle East? DM me on Twitter.
Cover photo: Politico