THE SAUDI-LED oil cartel OPEC+’s announcement earlier this month that it was cutting 2 million barrels of oil per day — a move that would drive up the price of oil just a month before midterm elections — rankled Democrats in Washington. They accused Riyadh of aligning itself with Russia, another powerful member of OPEC+, which would indeed profit off the move. “What Saudi Arabia did to help Putin continue to wage his despicable, vicious war against Ukraine will long be remembered by Americans,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
But Saudi Arabia actually pushed to cut oil production twice as much as Russian President Vladimir Putin, surprising the Russians, two Saudi sources with knowledge of the negotiations told The Intercept, suggesting that Riyadh’s motives run deeper than what top Democrats want to admit. The sources requested anonymity, fearing reprisal by the Saudi government.
Public reporting has hinted at Saudi’s Arabia’s drive for a far more aggressive production cut than Russia as well as other OPEC+ members first sought. On September 27, Reuters reported that Russia favored a 1 million barrel per day cut — just half of what would later be agreed upon. Then on October 5, OPEC+ announced that it would be cutting 2 million barrels a day. On October 14, the White House’s National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said that “more than one” OPEC+ members disagreed about the cut but were coerced by Saudi Arabia into going along with it — but he declined to specify which countries. The OPEC+ members who privately pushed back against the cut include Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain, and even the United Arab Emirates, a close ally of Saudi Arabia’s, according to the Wall Street Journal. These countries reportedly feared that the production cuts could lead to a recession that would ultimately reduce demand for oil.
Saudi Arabia, a putative ally, pushed for even deeper cuts than what Russia, a U.S. adversary, even believed they could get away with, the sources said. “People in D.C. think MBS is siding with Putin, but I think MBS is even more Putinian than Putin,” one of the sources, a Saudi close to the royal family, said, referring to Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
While Saudi Arabia has maintained that the move was motivated solely by economic interests, the White House and other top Democrats have said that the Saudis are pursuing a conscious alignment with Russia. “The Saudi foreign ministry can try to spin or deflect, but the facts are simple,” Kirby said, alleging that “they knew” that the oil production cut would “increase Russian revenues and blunt the effectiveness of sanctions” against Russia amid its invasion of Ukraine.
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