From desert sands to diplomatic dances, the GCC is making waves with a tantalising twist: a possible Russian rendezvous. Brace yourselves for a geopolitical tango that could reshape the Middle East’s power play.
If 2022 was dominated by European affairs, 2023 is shaping up to be all about West Asia, or, simply put, the Middle East. Recent developments involving Iran-Syria, Iran-Saudi Arabia, and Saudi-Syria have captured the world’s attention.
The newfound peace between these historically hostile environments has brought a sigh of relief to the region and beyond. However, the most significant development of all has been Syria’s reinstatement in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Syria’s potential return to the Arab League has prompted the GCC to convene a meeting in Jeddah, inviting member states as well as concerned countries like Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq. This move signifies a notable shift in Arab views towards Syria and the region’s commitment to stability. The world watches in anticipation to see how this will unfold and what it means for the balance of power in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, there are also discussions of the potential entry of Iran into this influential geopolitical bloc. The prospect of Iran joining the GCC has sent shockwaves through Western allies, as it represents Middle Eastern nations standing up for their own protection and rights, effectively challenging Western influence.
The United States and its allies have expressed concerns over these developments However, some argue that Iran’s inclusion in the GCC could promote dialogue and cooperation, potentially leading to greater stability in the region.
The Emergence of GCC+ with Russia’s Involvement:
But, let’s keep that aside and draw a parallel to OPEC+ because it appears that a new alliance, GCC+, may be on the horizon with the potential inclusion of Russia. Two groundbreaking developments have unfolded in the Middle East. Firstly, VTB Bank, one of Russia’s largest lenders, has opened an office in Iran, strengthening the economic ties between the two countries amidst Western sanctions.
Additionally, Russia and Iran have signed an agreement to finance and construct a railway line that will become part of a vital international cargo route. The 162-kilometre (100-mile) Rasht-Astara railway will run along the Caspian Sea coast and through Azerbaijan, connecting Russia, Central Asia, and India.
This initiative is a crucial part of the International North-South Transport Corridor, a 7,200-kilometre (4,473-mile) combined road, rail, and sea route aimed at moving goods from Russia to India, significantly reducing shipping costs and times.
Russia’s increasing involvement in Iran’s economic expansion underscores its rising interest ahead of Iran’s possible entry into the GCC. This raises questions about the potential implications of a Russia-Iran partnership within the GCC framework and how it may reshape regional dynamics.
However, Russia may not be the only nation seeking closer ties with the GCC. India and China, two global powers with significant interests in the region, have also shown considerable interest in joining the bloc. India has long maintained strong economic ties with GCC countries, particularly in the areas of energy, trade, and labour migration. Joining the GCC could further enhance India’s economic and strategic engagement in the Middle East.
China, on the other hand, has been actively expanding its presence in the region through its peace process and charm offensive. The GCC offers a valuable platform for China to strengthen its economic cooperation and investment in the region. With China’s growing influence and economic clout, its inclusion in the GCC would undoubtedly reshape the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East.
The Arabic Economic Juggernaut:
The GCC already controls a significant portion of the world’s oil and gas reserves, making it a crucial player in the global energy market. If Iran were to join the council, their collective influence would grow even further, potentially shifting the balance of power in the region and impacting the global economy.
Moreover, the GCC member states are taking a giant leap forward by implementing a unified visa system for tourists and businesspeople from numerous countries.
This initiative, comparable to the European Union’s Schengen zone visa, will allow travellers to visit six GCC countries – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman – under a single visa. The simplified visa process will make it easier for tourists and businesspeople to travel between GCC countries, boosting the economy and creating new opportunities for growth.
The emergence of a potential GCC+ bloc poses opportunities for regional and global players. As the GCC solidifies its position as an economic juggernaut. Something big is indeed cooking in the Middle East, and its impact will reverberate across the globe.