Saudi Support to Ukraine Doesn’t ‘Compensate’ for Oil Cuts Supporting Russia

Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared to walk back some of Washington’s condemnation of Saudi Arabia on the grounds that Riyadh was too friendly to Russia on Wednesday, crediting the Saudis for “positive developments” such as humanitarian aid for Ukraine.

Relations between Saudi Arabia, a decades-long American ally, and the administration of leftist President Joe Biden have deteriorated rapidly since Biden visited the country in July, awkwardly greeting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with a fist bump after vowing as a presidential candidate to turn his country into a “pariah.” The meeting went so poorly, the Wall Street Journal claimed this month, that bin Salman decided to cut a planned oil production increase in half after Biden requested the Saudi help inject more oil supply into the global market.

In the months since, the White House admitted to urging the Saudi government to postpone oil production cuts until after the U.S. midterm elections, which would prevent gasoline prices from spiking and outraging voters. The Saudi government responded to that request by backing the oil cartel OPEC+ in cutting production by 2 million barrels a day, an announcement made in early August.

As Russia is a member of OPEC+, the Biden White House accused Saudi Arabia of bankrolling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by making moves that increase oil profits for Moscow. The Saudi government took great offense at the accusation, publishing a long statement through its Foreign Affairs Ministry “to express its total rejection” of the allegations.

Rising to defend the Saudis from the Biden White House’s accusations of being too close to the Russian government was Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who called the crown prince shortly thereafter and published an official statement thanking Saudi Arabia for its support.

In this image released by the Saudi Royal Palace, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, greets President Joe Biden with a fist bump after his arrival at Al-Salam palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 15, 2022. (Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP, File)

Blinken, speaking to Bloomberg News on Wednesday, appeared to soften the Biden administration’s tone on the Saudi Arabia’s ties to Russia, recognizing that Riyadh had taken material steps that benefit the Ukrainian government.

KYIV, UKRAINE - AUGUST 24: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks as he and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (not pictured) give a press conference on August 24, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. The British prime minister, who leaves office next month, visited the Ukrainian capital as the country commemorated its 1991 independence from the Soviet Union. This year, August 24 also marks six months since the start of Russia's large-scale invasion of the country. (Photo by Alexey Furman/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on August 24, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Alexey Furman/Getty Images)

Referring to the OPEC+ oil production cut, Blinken complained that it was “a wrong decision and one that does nothing actually to advance our interests.”

“On the contrary, the potential of oil prices to go up to further line Putin’s pockets at a time when he’s doing this aggression, to have the prices rise,” he said, “if they were to rise, at a time when the world economy is trying to recover from [Chinese coronavirus] as well as dealing with global inflation. ”

The Associated Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with a soldier as he visits a military training centre of the Western Military District in Ryazan Region, Russia, Thursday, October 20, 2022. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

But having said that, since the decision we’ve seen a few interesting things,” Blinken continued. “The Saudis supported the important resolutions at the United Nations condemning Russia’s aggression, particularly the resolution that went forward at the General Assembly condemning the purported annexations of Ukrainian territory.”

“We’ve also seen the Saudis come forward with about $400 million in humanitarian assistance for Ukraine,” he added. “So these are positive developments.  They don’t compensate [for] the decision made by OPEC+ on production, but we take note of that.”

OPEC+ announced the oil production cut on October 5. The United Nations resolution Blinken referenced passed on October 12, and Riyadh announced the $400 million in humanitarian aid for Ukraine on October 15.

Blinken did not mention actions that Saudi Arabia had taken prior to October 5 that the Ukrainian government had expressed gratitude for, most prominently mediation that resulted in Russia freeing over 200 Ukrainian prisoners of war, including American citizens.

“We are bringing our people home. Exchange has just finished. Today we have 215 pieces of good news. 215!” Zelensky said on September 22. “All of them will return home through the mediation of Saudi Arabia. I am sincerely grateful to everyone who contributed for your help!”

Blinken’s comments followed a similar change in tone on the issue from State Department spokesman Ned Price during his regular briefing on Tuesday.

“We’ve taken note since the OPEC+ decision that Saudi Arabia voted against Russia at the United Nations and also pledged $400 million in support for Ukraine’s reconstruction and its humanitarian needs,” Price said. “These steps, of course, don’t compensate for the production cut that was announced, but they’re noteworthy, and we’ll be watching to see what Saudi Arabia does over the coming weeks, and that in turn will inform our consultations and ultimately the President’s decision.”

Price did not mention Saudi Arabia’s role in the prisoner swap.

The Biden administration’s criticism of Saudi Arabia’s alleged role in Ukraine followed the production cuts but appears to be part of a much larger deterioration of the bilateral relationship. Reports in the Wall Street Journal, apparently fueled by anonymous remarks from Saudi officials, indicate that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has a personal dislike of Biden that has made negotiations difficult.

“Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s 37-year-old day-to-day ruler, mocks President Biden in private, making fun of the 79-year-old’s gaffes and questioning his mental acuity,” the newspaper claimed this week. “people inside the Saudi government.”

The New York Times, citing unknown American sources, claimed on Tuesday that bin Salman had told Biden he would increase Saudi Arabia’s oil production and support supply increases, and later “duped” him by backing the OPEC+ cuts. The far-left newspaper claimed Democrats in Congress who had been assured that Biden’s trip to Riyadh would help stabilize oil prices felt “embarrassed” by the situation.

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