Soviet Energy Overtures to the Middle East
Despite the USSR’s abundance of energy resources, historically this factor has not been the dominant one in the country’s foreign policy. Traditionally driven by ideology and often lacking in pragmatism, Soviet foreign policy has typically attempted to counter Western “imperialistic” expansion, with the Middle East being the primary battleground for ideological face-offs. With regional states leaning toward one or the other of the political camps during the Cold War, the USSR’s strategy in the Middle East focused on winning the allegiance of local elites, and although various instruments were employed, energy was rarely one of them.
The “pre-oil era” in the Middle East was marked by paradoxical political developments that seem nearly impossible today. For instance, the communist Soviet Union enjoyed a warm relationship with the Kingdom of Hejaz and Nejd, and became the first state to recognize it, while Moscow’s envoy to the Kingdom, Karim Khakimov, was a personal friend of its founder Ibn Saud. Soviet-Saudi relations turned sour after Khakimov was executed in Moscow, which happened two months before the discovery of the largest deposit of oil in the world in March 1938 in Saudi Arabia. Arguably, had the Soviets not killed their sole link to the Saudi King and by extension to his gigantic oil wealth, the Middle East might well look very different today.