Chinese backing for Russia’s proposed collective security concept, which would replace the Gulf’s US defense umbrella and position Russia as a power broker alongside the US, comes amid heightened tensions as a result of tit-for-tat tanker seizures and a beefed-up US and British military presence in Gulf waters.
In early August, Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized an alleged Iraqi tanker in the Gulf. Iran said the vessel was smuggling oil to an unidentified Arab country.
The taking of the Iraqi ship followed the Iranian seizure of the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero. The seizure was in response to the impounding off Gibraltar of an Iranian tanker suspected of breaching EU sanctions against Syria.
The Russian proposal entails the creation of a “counter-terrorism coalition (of) all stakeholders” that would be the motor for the resolution of conflicts across the region and promote mutual security guarantees. It would involve the removal of the “permanent deployment of troops of extra-regional states in the territories of states of the Gulf” – a reference to US, British, and French forces.
The proposal calls for a “universal and comprehensive” security system that would take into account “the interests of all regional and other parties involved, in all spheres of security, including its military, economic and energy dimensions.”
The coalition, to include the Gulf states, Russia, China, the US, the EU, and India, as well as other stakeholders (a likely reference to Iran), would be launched at an international conference on security and cooperation in the Gulf.
It was not clear how feuding Gulf states like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran would be persuaded to sit at one table. The proposal suggested that Russia’s advantage was that it maintains good relations with all parties.
Chinese backing of the Russian proposal gives it significant added weight.
Some analysts suggest that the US, which is no longer dependent on Gulf oil imports, is gradually reducing its commitment despite a temporary spike in the number of US troops dispatched to the region as a result of tensions with Iran.