Saudi Arabia Makes Its Eurasian Shift

Saudi Arabia partnered with Russia, an OPEC+ partner, to cut oil production and hosted the first China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit, showing how it is making its Eurasian shift.

On 6 March, 2023, Iranian and Saudi officials held a meeting in Beijing where they agreed to restore bilateral relations. The agreement was significant not only for the mutual de-escalation of tensions in West Asia, but also for Saudi Arabia’s growing importance in the process of Eurasian integration led by China and Russia.

By welcoming Chinese mediation, the kingdom has positioned itself as an independent actor capable of opening doors for Beijing and Moscow in a region where they have traditionally been overshadowed by a great power rival, the US. This move boosts Saudi Arabia’s importance in the geopolitical landscape and strengthens its ties with Beijing and Moscow.

Asserting autonomy from the US

For much of its history, Saudi Arabia was a staunch ally of the US in the Persian Gulf region. However, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MbS) military quagmire in Yemen – among other things – damaged Washington’s perception of the kingdom as a stable and reliable outpost in the region. The feeling was mutual and forced MbS to seek assistance from other nations to help lower tensions on Saudi frontiers.

Between 2021 and 2022, Riyadh engaged in several rounds of an Iraq-hosted dialogue with Iran to negotiate assistance from Tehran in preventing its allies in Yemen and Iraq from attacking Saudi territory.

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What is particularly noteworthy to China and Russia is that MbS did not use this diplomacy as a means to restore the US’ traditional centrality in the kingdom’s regional and security policies. Instead, he made a point of cooperation with Beijing and Moscow while simultaneously snubbing Washington.

For example, in October 2022, Saudi Arabia partnered with OPEC+ partner Russia to cut oil production, breaking commitments made to US President Joe Biden during his July visit to Jeddah. MbS also overshadowed Biden’s trip with a much grander welcome for Chinese President Xi Jinping in December, during which Riyadh also hosted the first China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit to underscore the Saudi view of China as a regional partner rather than just a bilateral one.

Against this backdrop, the Saudi decision to sign a Chinese-brokered deal with Iran without Washington’s involvement has been interpreted as a “middle-finger to Biden,” in the words of former US State Department analyst Aaron David Miller.

Similarly, Riyadh’s nascent Russian-brokered detente with Syria, whose Iran and Russia-allied government is still opposed by the US, also illustrates Saudi Arabia’s willingness to move away from its traditional pro-American stance.

The China-brokered Saudi-Iran deal will deal a massive blow to the near-unlimited geopolitical sway that Washington held and change the Middle East.

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