New U.S.-Russia-Saudi oil alliance could also have implications for Israel and Iran
A reported deal between Putin and the Saudi crown prince means they will have members of OPEC over a barrel when they meet in Vienna this weekend – but Jerusalem will be an interested spectator as well
Anshel PfefferSendSend me email alerts
Jun 20, 2018
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman didn’t look like someone whose national team was losing 5-0 to Russia last Thursday. The broad smiles as he sat beside Russian President Vladimir Putin in the VIP box at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium indicated the opening match of the World Cup was just an excuse for their meeting.
According to briefings by Russian officials after the crown prince had left Moscow, he and Putin had agreed on a joint policy worth more than any sports trophy.
The two governments – also two of the world’s major energy producers – had reportedly agreed to “institutionalize” the relationship between Russia and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Does this include all the OPEC members who are meeting in Vienna on Friday? Almost certainly not.
OPEC exists in theory to ensure its members’ market share of the global energy market and to try and boost oil prices, ensuring their major source of income remains lucrative. But it depends on consensus and coordination between the members. And geopolitics can intrude – in this case, the deepening enmity between two of the major oil producers: the Saudis and Iran.
In 2016, following a prolonged dip in oil prices (which saw the price of a barrel of crude drop to below $30), OPEC’s 14 members – along with OPEC Plus, a second group of associated nations, including Russia – agreed to cut back production. Along with the rise in global financial activity, this has gradually pushed oil prices back to over $70 a barrel.
Now, though, some nations – led by the Saudis and Russia – are calling for an increase in production. They are losing market share to U.S. shale oil producers and argue that, since demand is currently high, putting more oil on the market will not dramatically affect prices. They calculate that any dip in prices will be offset by the increase in production.
But not all OPEC members are capable of boosting production.
Iran, about to come under stiff new sanctions from the Trump administration, is already losing orders worth hundreds of thousands of barrels. In Venezuela, production is already plummeting due to political turmoil and the economic meltdown under the Maduro government, which also faces U.S. sanctions. For both countries, lower oil prices will only compound their financial woes.