2022 was the year when a new generation of GCC leaders took advantage of the opportunities that Putin’s war presented and forced the west to adopt a fresh perspective on the Persian Gulf.
Although the countries of the Persian Gulf have been reevaluating their interactions with the West for some time, 2022 will be remembered as the year of a tectonic shift.
The indications of the direction were already there: previous US presidents had shown that their only real interest in the Persian Gulf was in the sale of weapons, the security of the supply, and the low price of oil on the international market. Donald Trump saw Saudi Arabia as a source of revenue for both his family’s interests and the sale of weapons, while Barack Obama had disregarded the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in his pursuit of an Iranian nuclear deal.
Leading figures from the Persian Gulf felt patronized, like their opinions weren’t heard, and that their concerns were ignored. Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, which was brutal even by Saudi standards, was ordered by Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), who did himself no favors by further deteriorating relations.
However, the groundwork had been done, and on February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his army into Ukraine, signaling the start of a new era.
Since the end of World War II, Europe had been forced to engage in its most serious conflict due to its over-reliance on Russian oil and gas. The Europeans used sanctions in an effort to wean themselves off Russian energy supplies because they needed to stand up to Putin in order to stop a war that could consume them.
The price of gas and oil skyrocketed, and the Gulf’s hydrocarbon producers suddenly found themselves wielding a whip they hadn’t seen since the 1970s.
By refusing to support sanctions and participating in UN resolutions denouncing the invasion, the Persian Gulf states asserted their neutrality. However, as the conflict dragged on, it became increasingly obvious that they were seeing great benefit from neutrality that was tilted more in favor of the Russians, similar to what Switzerland had done with the Nazis.
Then-UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson traveled to Riyadh in March for a meeting with MBS. The British prime minister’s meeting with the crown prince was the first one to take place since Khashoggi’s murder. He was there to beg MBS to increase production in order to curb energy inflation that was out of control and endangering the UK economy. Johnson left with nothing.
Then, on July 15, MBS met US Vice President Joe Biden in Jeddah, where they exchanged fist bumps. Biden tried unsuccessfully to increase oil production the following day at the GCC 3 Summit. It was a scenario that came to pass when French President Emmanuel Macron later in July welcomed MBS to Paris, marking another first for a western leader following the murder of Khashoggi. The request was submitted twice, each time being denied.
Another request and another denial came before the midterm elections, with Biden and his Democratic party appearing to be in terrible shape. The news that OPEC would further reduce production as a result of Saudi pressure surfaced in October. Adding salt to a wound.