British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared a mission to build an international coalition against Russia and wean off dependence on its oil and gas exports in protest against the conflict with Ukraine, as he embarked on a visit to the Gulf region on Wednesday. Johnson is scheduled to meet with leaders in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh for talks on energy, regional security and humanitarian relief as part of what Downing Street described as the UK's efforts to galvanise global action on the crisis in Ukraine.
The leaders are expected to discuss efforts to improve energy security and reduce volatility in global energy and food prices amid the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis. "The brutal and unprovoked assault President Putin has unleashed on Ukraine will have far-reaching consequences for the world, well beyond Europe's borders," Johnson said ahead of his visit.
"The UK is building an international coalition to deal with the new reality we face. The world must wean itself off Russian hydrocarbons and starve Putin's addiction to oil and gas. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are key international partners in that effort. We will work with them to ensure regional security, support the humanitarian relief effort and stabilise global energy markets for the longer term," he said. Johnson will hold talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) before travelling to Saudi Arabia to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The focus of the visit is on highlighting the importance of working together to increase the diplomatic and economic pressure on President Vladimir Putin's regime and minimise the global fallout from the conflict. "Vladimir Putin over the last years has been like a pusher, feeding an addiction in Western countries to his hydrocarbons," Johnson told reporters before he set off from the UK. "We need to get ourselves off that addiction," he added.
In addition to potential measures to increase oil production, the visit is a part of efforts on diversifying the UK's energy supply and working with international partners to ramp up renewables, Downing Street said. Saudi Arabia, the third largest supplier of diesel to the UK, committed to net zero emission targets by 2060 ahead of the COP26 climate summit hosted by the UK in November last year. As part of the visit, Saudi Arabia's Alfanar group will confirm a new GBP 1 billion investment in the Lighthouse Green Fuels Project in Teeside, northern England, aiming to be the first company to produce sustainable aviation fuel from waste at scale in the UK.
The project is expected to create more than 700 jobs during construction starting next year and around 240 full-time jobs once it is fully operational. Aviation fuel generated by the plant has the potential to produce 80 per cent less greenhouse gas than its fossil fuel equivalent, Downing Street said. Other strategic and regional issues, including the situation in Iran and Yemen, increased security cooperation, trade and investment and supporting human rights and the civil society, are also on the agenda of Johnson's Gulf tour.
According to official data, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are among the UK's two largest economic partners in the Middle East, with bilateral trade worth GBP 12.2 billion and GBP 10.4 billion in 2020 respectively. The UK is preparing for negotiations on a trade deal with the wider Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) which will boost trade and investment with the whole region. There are concerns in the UK over Saudi Arabia's human rights record, including the controversial murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Johnson defended his trip to the country, saying his mission is to build "the strongest, widest possible coalition" to ensure that Putin does not succeed. Last week, the UK government announced plans to phase out imports of Russian oil products by the end of 2022 and a possible ban on natural gas from the country. Western action against Russia has sent oil prices rocketing amid supply uncertainties.
With PTI Inputs