The consequences of the war in Ukraine on the MEM region
Institutional Communication Service
1 July 2022
What are the consequences of the war in Ukraine on the Middle East Mediterranean region? We tackle the issue with Federica Frediani, coordinator of the Middle East Mediterranean Summer Summit and the MEM Freethinking Platform, which has long been working on issues and projects in the region.
The war in Ukraine ended a long period of peace in Europe and reshaped the world's geopolitical balance and relations among the great powers. Naturally, the effects of the conflict are felt in the Old Continent. Still, they have spread globally and significantly impacted the Middle East and North Africa geopolitically, economically, socially and energetically. Given the vastness and heterogeneity of this geographical area, there are some general consequences but also country-specific consequences.
On the geopolitical level, several regional governments have found it difficult to take sides so as not to jeopardize relations with Europe and the United States on the one hand and relations with Russia on the other. While Europe is important for geographic proximity, trade and economic ties, Russia is also crucial for close links based on strategic military and energy cooperation. The difficulty in taking sides of the countries in the region, referred to by some scholars as "the struggle to (not) pick sides," is compounded by China's ambiguous stance toward the conflict. China is known to have major investments and economic projects in the MENA region, and governments cannot afford to alienate/lose China's support.
At the 2 March 2022 vote at the UN General Assembly, most Arab states voted in favour of the resolution calling for Russia's unconditional withdrawal from Ukrainian territory. However, Syria voted against the resolution since Bashar Al-Assad's regime could never have countered the armed rebellion for eleven years without Russia's military and strategic help, which apparently transferred Syrian fighters ready to be deployed on the Ukrainian front. In contrast, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan abstained.
It should also be remembered that in several areas of the region, Russia plays a role in complex conflicts, such as Libya. The outcomes of the war in Ukraine will, therefore, also influence Russia's role in these contexts.
Food insecurity is undoubtedly one of the repercussions of most significant concern in the region. How so?
Food insecurity is not new in the region, so much so that it is considered one of the most food-insecure regions in the world (and beyond).
The already problematic situation worsened with first the Covid emergency and then the outbreak of war in Ukraine. It has become particularly critical in countries such as Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt.
Countries in the Middle East and North Africa are large importers of cereals, raw materials and food products.
It is estimated that between 2019 and 2021, Egypt, which has a population of about 110 million and consumes twice as much bread as the world average, imported 85 per cent of wheat from Russia and Ukraine. In Lebanon, plunged into an unprecedented economic crisis, food security is threatened by the shortage of grains and fertilizer, which severely impacts local agricultural production. The scarcity of raw materials to produce primary food commodities inevitably leads to rising food prices in countries already strained by economic crises, regional conflicts and humanitarian emergencies. Moreover, higher food prices exponentially increase the risk of civil uprisings, as with the 2011 riots.
The energy issue.
The Middle East and North African countries represent the alternative to European countries' energy dependence on Russia. Hydrocarbon-producing countries, therefore, could benefit from new agreements with European countries for gas and oil supplies. Still, they may not necessarily agree to increase production to meet the needs of European countries. In March, for example, Opec plus decided not to increase production to keep oil prices under control.
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