UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, on Tuesday, March 15, 2022, brushed off concerns regarding his trip to Saudi Arabia, as part of efforts to wean the West off Russian oil after its invasion on Ukraine.
Mr. Johnson is expected to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman this week, hoping to persuade him to boost the Gulf state’s oil production to offset the impact of economic sanctions against the Kremlin on global energy prices.
The visit has been described as controversial considering the longstanding concern about the kingdom’s human rights record as well as the mass execution of 81 people last weekend. Bin Salman had also been accused of masterminding the murder of journalist and Riyadh critic, Jamal Khashoggi, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
Johnson, a former journalist, intimated that a new coalition of countries was needed to prevent Russia’s Vladimir Putin from holding Western countries hostage through energy supplies.
While responding to questions, Mr. Johnson brushed aside questions, pointing out that tackling the spike in global oil prices caused by the invasion and sanctions meant dealing with unpleasant regimes.
“We need to talk to other producers around the world about how we can move away from that dependency. We want to build the widest possible coalition to ensure that we focus on what is happening in Ukraine, the effect that is having on the price of oil and gas.”UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson
Johnson’s spokesman intimated separately that human rights concerns and the executions would be raised, and bin Salman would be asked to condemn Putin, and step-up sanctions.
“It’s a message the prime minister will carry to all world leaders,” he told reporters, adding that it is “important we have a coordinated response” to maintain pressure.
Analysts in the oil sector have predicted that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman could be reluctant to increase production.
Like the United States, the UK plans to phase out Russian oil imports, as part of wide-ranging sanctions targeted at Russian businesses and billionaires.
Russia’s imports account for about 8.0 percent of total UK oil demand, which is less than in mainland Europe, where there has been a reluctance to turn the taps off completely.
Last week, countries including Germany warned against an abrupt ban on Russian energy imports given the lack of immediate alternative supplies.
Surges in oil prices in recent weeks have done little to alleviate growing public concerns in the UK and elsewhere continue to show a spiralling increase in inflation and the cost of living.
Middle East and North Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, Torbjorn Solvedt, disclosed that efforts by the United States to bring down oil prices have so far amounted to little.
He disclosed that the odds were “stacked against Johnson as he seeks to secure a shift in Saudi and OPEC oil policy”.
“Saudi Arabia has so far proved reluctant to deviate from the current OPEC+ framework and plan, which mandates incremental monthly production increases. The framework has been highly effective during the Covid-19 pandemic and there is strong reluctance to change course.”Middle East and North Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, Torbjorn Solvedt