Abu Dhabi (AFP), March 16 – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson began pressuring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to pump more oil to calm markets rocked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as he met with leaders of the UAE on Wednesday. Gulf States.
Johnson arrived in Abu Dhabi for talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and was then due to fly to Riyadh as the West seeks to end its dependence on Russian oil following the invasion of Ukraine.
His visit, amid extreme volatility in oil prices, coincides with fresh condemnation of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record after 81 men were executed in a mass execution on Saturday.
Johnson will also meet Saudi de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as he becomes one of the few Western leaders to visit Riyadh since the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Johnson, himself a former journalist, promised to raise human rights issues with Prince Mohammed but also stressed Britain’s “very important relationship” with the oil-rich Gulf.
He said the visit was also aimed at increasing investment in green energy in the UK, including the announcement of £1bn (€1.2bn) from Saudi group Alfanar for a production of sustainable aviation fuel from waste.
“It’s not just about looking at OPEC countries and what they can do to increase supply, although that’s important,” Johnson told British media.
“When we look at the dependence that the West in particular has accumulated on Putin’s hydrocarbons, Putin’s oil and gas, we can see what a mistake it was because he was able to blackmail the West.”
Johnson’s spokesman said he would also ask Prince Mohammed to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin for the assault on Ukraine.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are two of the world’s biggest oil exporters and both have ties to Moscow, have so far avoided taking a stand against Russia.
But Johnson said before leaving that the impact of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “brutal and unprovoked” aggression will be felt far beyond Europe.
– ‘Odds against Johnson’ –
He said as Western sanctions began to bite, a new international coalition was needed to offset their impact on consumers who were already feeling the effects of rising inflation and rising costs of living.
“The world must wean itself off Russian hydrocarbons and starve Putin’s addiction to oil and gas,” he said in a statement.
“Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are key international partners in this effort.
“We will work with them to ensure regional security, support the humanitarian relief effort and stabilize global energy markets over the longer term.”
The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are the UK’s two largest economic partners in the region, with two-way trade worth £12.2 billion ($15.9 billion, 14, €5bn) and £10.4bn in 2020, Johnson’s office said.
The prime minister hopes he can persuade Prince Mohammed to boost his kingdom’s oil production to help bring down spiraling prices that are driving up household energy bills.
Germany last week issued an “urgent appeal” to the Saudi-led OPEC oil producer group to increase production “to create relief in the market” over fears of supply.
Russia is the world’s largest gas producer and the second largest oil producer behind Saudi Arabia, the kingpin of OPEC.
But like the United States, Britain plans to phase out imports of Russian oil by the end of the year, as part of sweeping sanctions targeting Russian companies and billionaires.
US President Joe Biden and Prince Mohammed have not spoken since Biden took office and vowed to treat the kingdom as a ‘pariah’ state following the Khashoggi murder, which the CIA has blamed on the Saudi royal family .
Torbjorn Soltvedt, Middle East and North Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, told AFP that “without this break, it is unlikely that Johnson will now spearhead oil diplomacy efforts in the Gulf.”
But he added the odds were “against Johnson as he seeks change in Saudi and OPEC oil policy.”
“Saudi Arabia has so far been reluctant to deviate from the current OPEC+ framework and plan, which mandates incremental monthly increases in production,” he said.
Soltvedt said the UAE “may be more willing to turn on the taps” as it wants to capitalize on its oil reserves faster.
But the United Arab Emirates on March 10 reaffirmed its commitment to OPEC+ alliance agreements to meet existing production targets through April.