Crude Politics

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Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are spearheading an OPEC effort to extend oil cooperation with Russia for at least three years and perhaps longer. OPEC and Russia have been cooperating closely over the past two years. Initially, the ad hoc partnership was intended to support oil prices which were experiencing a dramatic plunge at the time. This transformed into a market-control push to curb the influence of the United States as top crude producer in the world. As the US position has risen, its ability to affect international markets, and oil prices has grown.

Russia has rejected earlier efforts by OPEC to make it a permanent member of the cartel. Russian officials have pointed to increased bureaucracy as the reason for remaining outside of OPEC. There may be some truth to this, but the main reason for Moscow’s reluctance is probably the fact that Russia is not as dependent on oil revenue as many of OPEC’s other members. Therefore, it can survive economically even with oil prices remaining low. Geopolitics is probably another factor in Russia’s decision. Iran is a close ally of Russia, as well as the archenemy of Saudi Arabia. Tehran would not want to see a situation develop where Saudi Arabia and Russia as economic allies.

Other OPEC members may not be as open to Russia joining the cartel either. Russia and Saudi Arabia are the world’s #2 and #3 oil producers respectively. Those two nations would effectively hold the decision-making power for the entire cartel, marginalizing the smaller nations, their contributions, and positions. The Saudis also need to carefully consider the ramifications it could potentially face in the future if its efforts to woo Russia are successful. It could strain relations with the United States at a point in time when the House of Saud is enjoying a close, fruitful relationship with the Trump administration. In the aftermath of the Khashoggi affair the Saudis need to be a little more thankful to the US for its support. Bringing Russia into OPEC would not be seen as the act of a grateful ally.

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