Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Biden and Putin in West Asia | How does it impact India?

Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Biden and Putin in West Asia | How does it impact India?

In this episode of Worldview, we look at President Biden and President Putin’s moves in the Middle East and how much will the shifting sands change the geopolitical balance for India?

Both US President Joseph Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin made their way to different parts of West Asia or the Middle East as it is called in the past week. Both visits were important signals, meant to strengthen ties that have been historically strong, but the underlining theme was a way to shore up support during the Russia-Ukraine war for Washington and Moscow respectively. We are going to take a look at how both worked out, and how it all could impact India. Of course, the I2U2 summit which Prime Minister Narendra Modi took part in, was among those meetings.

But the big snapshot of the visit was this fistbump between Mr. Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman- whom he once threatened to treat as an outcast.

First- lets take you through Mr. Biden’s tour

-From July 13-16 he travelled to Israel, Palestine and Saudi Arabia and had bilateral meetings with each country

– While he was in Israel, he also attended the I2U2 summit of India Israel US UAE virtually

– In Jeddah, he attended a meeting of GCC countries Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and UAE, together with the leaders of Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan.

So what was the purpose of the visit?

In an article he wrote for the Washington Post, Mr. Biden said that his goals were threefold:

– To counter Russia’s aggression

– To be in the best position to outcompete China

– And to work for greater stability in the region- he later added that the US would not leave the middle east, and make space for Russia, China and Iran.

The achievements of Biden visit: in travelling to Israel,

-He furthered the Abraham accords opening, becoming the first person to fly directly from Tel Aviv to Jeddah under the Saudi decision to open airspace for Israel. However, Saudi Arabia has not indicated it will recognise Israel as of now

-He also facilitated the first conversation between the PM of Israel Yair Lapid and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

– Ahead of his visit, the US effected a ceasefire in Yemen and reversed a designation of Houthi rebels so they are no longer classified as a terror group

– And by holding the first summit of the I2U2- strengthened cooperation with India and UAE on water, energy, transportation, space, health, and food security

What is the I2U2?

–The arrangement is thus far a non-security mechanism for cooperation on development issues between the four countries

– Foreign Ministers of the grouping first met in October 2021 and now the summit signals plans for cooperation have grown, and the US NSA even said that the I2U2 could become for the Gulf region what the Quad for the Indo-Pacific has developed too.

– Specifically, the Summit announced two projects for India:

1. UAE would invest $2 billion to develop food parks in India, where US and Israel will supply technology and expertise.

2. The group would help develop a $300 million hybrid renewable energy project in Gujarat- wind and solar energy with a battery storage capacity

On his visit to Saudi Arabia, Mr. Biden

– Revived stagnant ties with Saudi Arabia, built a new coalition with GCC plus countries

– Committed to stopping Iran from procuring nuclear weapons

– And attempted to make the case that Gulf OPEC countries must help keep the price of oil low to avoid a global crisis due to the Russian war in Ukraine- but received no assurances

– It must also be remembered that none of the GCC plus countries have joined US and European sanctions against Russia

– Biden also faced criticism in the US for having made a u-turn on earlier statements denying he would meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, accused of ordering the killing of Saudi Journalist Khashoggi. The US decision to brush aside Human Rights concerns in Saudi Arabia for better bilateral ties denotes a rethink on Interests over Values, even as the US plans a democracy summit in December this year, where PM Modi is expected to travel

Putin visit to Iran

The real impact of Mr. Biden’s visit came a couple of days later, as President Putin travelled to Tehran for a summit with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Turkish President Reccep Erdogan.

– The three issued a joint statement on Syria, and the need for a political resolution without external interference

– Mr. Putin and Mr. Erdogan who had a frosty beginning as the Turkish President kept the Russian president waiting for the meeting, also discussed ongoing talks between Russia and Ukraine on grain exports, being hosted by Turkey

– The Iranian supreme leader Khameini almost endorsed Russia’s war in Ukraine, saying that if Russia hadn’t invaded, NATO would have. The US has accused Iran of supplying Russia with military drones for the war

– And it showed a coming together of forces inimical to the US- a sort of rejoinder to the previous meetings

Let’s weigh the Pro’s and Cons for India coming out of all these moves in the Middle East


1. India has close strategic ties with Israel, Saudi Arabia, UAE, GCC and the US, and any close ties, removal of disagreements between these countries is positive

2. The I2U2 summit was a double win for India as the two projects announced will hopefully bring more investment opportunities to India

3. The Middle East or West Asia is an important region for India- we have done a few episodes of WV on why, but especially because 8 million Indians live and work there, and thus any moves for peace and reconciliation- as with Yemen, Israel-Palestine talks or smoothing differences with Qatar, are also positive

4. Opening of airspace, allowing trade, and other ways of economic normalisation globally, especially post the pandemic will facilitate global recovery

5. The US’s decision to engage with West Asia despite getting no assurances on its campaign against Russia gives India too, which has held out on buying Russian oil more breathing space


1. The two visits are showing a growing polarization between two parts of West Asia, both of which India has close ties with Israel, Saudi and UAE on one side, and Iran on the other. Mr. Biden’s statements indicate America is going to further build on that divide, clubbing with Iran now with Russia and China who are the US’s identified rivals- which does not augur well for the revival of the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran.

2. Mr. Biden’s visit and Mr. Putin’s visit have made one thing clear- that oil is going to remain overpriced for a while, and India’s choices, given that it was made to give up its best source of oil, Iran in 2018 by the US, remain narrow

3. The more the I2U2 gains in strategic consequence, the more it will look like a counter-Iran grouping, much like the Indo-Pacific Quad, for all its disavowals are now widely seen as a grouping to counter China. This will affect India-Iran ties in the long run, and as WV has covered before, doesn’t help New Delhi given its own strategic ties with Iran, the Chabahar port link, and the International North South Transport Corridor, and the need for an alternate to Pakistan for trade transport to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

4. For the same reason, Iran’s platform for the Russia-Turkey detente is also troubling for India, given tensions with Turkey over Pakistan, Kashmir and other reasons

5. If New Delhi is seen as taking a pro-Western tilt, Iran, with its $300 bn deal with China for infrastructure, and close military ties with Russia, could be seen as replacing India in its other groupings- Iran has now joined the SCO and has applied to be included in an expanded BRICS as well.

The careful balance that New Delhi has been walking between Moscow and Washington over the war in Europe has now gained a new arena- where India’s balance in ties with the Saudi and Israel-UAE combine versus ties with Iran could get more difficult, especially as it continues to walk the line in the Indo-Pacific. Geopolitical jugglery is increasingly the challenge of a globally polarised world.

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