Avaaz members, demonstrators, and Ukrainian activists  stand in front of signs reading "Stop Putin's oil" during a vigil for Ukraine near EU headquarters in Brussels, on March 22.

Editor’s Note: A version of this story first appeared in CNN’s Meanwhile in the Middle East newsletter, a three-times-a-week look inside the region’s biggest stories. Sign up here.

Abu Dhabi, UAE CNN  — 

As Europe tries to stymie Moscow’s war effort in Ukraine by weaning itself off Russia’s oil, Middle Eastern nations appear to be the only producers with enough capacity to compensate.

The question is, do any of them have the technical ability, and crucially, the willingness, to step up? Don’t hold your breath, say oil analysts.

Western states have imposed a host of sanctions to punish Russia for its war in Ukraine, but the European Union is yet to halt imports of oil and gas, Moscow’s main source of revenue, to avoid hurting their own economies.

A potential EU ban on Russian oil could lead to a shortfall of 2.2 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil and 1.2 million bpd of petroleum products, according to the International Energy Agency.

While Middle East nations hold almost half the world’s proven oil reserves and much of its spare production capacity, lack of investment in infrastructure, conflict, political alliances, and sanctions are among the reasons the region may not be able to come to Europe’s rescue.

Here’s a guide to what oil producers can and can’t do to compensate:

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates

The two countries have the lion’s share of OPEC’s spare capacity that is readily available, said Amena Bakr, chief OPEC correspondent at Energy Intelligence, at roughly 2.5 million bpd.

But OPEC’s largest producer Saudi Arabia has repeatedly dismissed US requests to increase production beyond a long- standing quota agreed with Russia and other non-OPEC producers, and is unlikely to heed European calls to raise output.

Analysts say a potential diversion of current shipments from Gulf Arabs’ customers in Asia could come at a cost.

This would only be possible “within the flexibility of these long-term contracts, or by agreement with the Asian buyers,” said Robin Mills, founder and CEO of Qamar Energy in Dubai.

Gulf oil shipments could be diverted from Asia to Europe, but that would endanger the burgeoning strategic partnership between the region and its main buyer China, analysts say.


In theory, Iraq can pump an extra 660,000 bpd, said Yousef Alshammari, CEO and head of oil research at CMarkits in London. It’s currently producing around 4.34 million bpd, and has a maximum production capacity of 5 million, he said, but sectarian divisions and a political stalemate in Baghdad mean it can’t be relied on to step in.

Iraq also lacks the infrastructure to raise output and investment in oil projects can take years before fruits are reaped, analysts say.

“You have to remember that with oil, it’s just not on tap,” said Bakr. “It needs investment, and this investment takes time to take effect.”


Libya’s oil fields suffer regular disruptions from continued political tensions. In late April, its National Oil Corporation (NOC) said the nation was losing more than 550,000 bpd in oil production from the blocking of its major oil fields and export terminals by politically disgruntled groups. One refinery suffered damage after armed clashes.

The NOC temporarily lifted force majeure on one oil terminal in early May, but disruptions remain a major cause for concern.

It is “nearly impossible to rely on Libya” for spare capacity, said Alshammari, since some of its production has been offline for years amid instability and repeated force majeures on key oil fields.


After the UAE and Saudi Arabia’s combined capacity, Iran is likely the most equipped to add oil to the market, but it remains under US sanctions as talks to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers stall.

The nation can contribute with up to 1.2 million bpd if US sanctions are lifted, analysts say. Data firm Kpler estimates that Iran had 100 million barrels in floating storage as of mid-February, meaning it could add 1 million bpd, or 1% of global supply, for about three months.

But the US is unlikely to “sign a bad deal with Iran just to put more oil into the market,” said Bakr.

Countries outside the region

Non-Middle East states with potential spare capacity, including Nigeria and Venezuela, also come with issues.

When it is said that a country has spare capacity, it means that it is “capable of bringing a given production within a period of 30 days for at least 90 days,” said Alshammari. For that reason, a Russian oil ban “can be detrimental to the global economy.”

That leaves Europe with a potential American option. But even if the US pumps more, it will neither suffice nor suit European needs because US crude is very light.

“Very light US crude is not an ideal fit for the European market nor for producing more diesel which is what is really needed,” said Mills.

The digest

ISIS claims responsibility for deadly attack on Egyptian troops in Sinai

ISIS on Sunday claimed responsibility for an attack on Saturday that killed an officer and 10 Egyptian soldiers in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, the group said on its Telegram channel.

  • Background: Since 2018, the military has expanded its control over populated, coastal areas of northern Sinai, allowing for a return of some civilian activity and the development of some infrastructure. However, sporadic attacks have continued with militants seeking refuge in the desert.
  • Why it matters: The attack was one of the deadliest in recent years in northern Sinai, where Egypt’s security forces have been battling Islamist militants with links to ISIS.

Qatar’s Emir to visit Tehran as nuclear talks stall

Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani will visit Iran this week in an attempt to revive the stalled talks over Iran’s nuclear program, a source from the region briefed on the visit told CNN. “Qatar has already been assisting with the mediation efforts,” the source said, adding that “the Qataris hope to bring the parties to a new middle ground to prevent nuclear proliferation in the region.”

  • Background: Iran’s foreign ministry said Monday that the EU Coordinator in Vienna, Enrique Mora, would visit Tehran to hold bilateral talks with Iran’s top negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani. Qatar’s Emir last visited Iran in January 2020.
  • Why it matters: Indirect US-Iranian talks to salvage the deal have been at an impasse chiefly over Tehran’s insistence that Washington remove the Revolutionary Guards Corps, its elite security force, from the US Foreign Terrorist Organization list. The US has said it’s preparing for a future without the deal.

Saudi king to stay in hospital after undergoing colonoscopy

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman will stay in hospital for some time to rest on doctors’ advice after undergoing a colonoscopy on Sunday afternoon, the state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said, citing the royal court. It said the results of the colonoscopy were fine.

  • Background: SPA had reported earlier that the king was admitted to King Faisal Specialist Hospital on Saturday evening in the Red Sea city of Jeddah to undergo medical tests.
  • Why it matters: The king, 86, underwent gallbladder surgery in 2020 and had the battery of his heart pacemaker replaced in March. Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince who runs the day-to-day affairs of the kingdom, has had a strained relationship with the United States and is yet to speak to President Biden.

What’s trending

Lebanese expats check lists with electoral staff before casting their votes for the May 15 legislative election at Lebanon's consulate in  Dubai on May 8.

#Lebanonelections2022 and #Expatriate_Elections

Domestic politics took a front seat in the lives of Lebanese expats around the Middle East as they cast their votes for the country’s 2022 parliamentary elections.

Social media was flooded with images of Lebanese voters in long queues under cold weather in Europe and the scorching temperatures of the Gulf waiting to cast their ballots. One video clip that went viral showed citizens coming to the voting booth at the Lebanese consulate in Dubai with their suitcases, having arrived straight from the airport to vote before the deadline.

Overseas turnout was around 60% this year, three times higher than during the 2018 elections, Reuters reported, citing the foreign ministry. Countries like the UAE saw more than a 70% turnout with the lines stretching roughly 1 kilometer. Domestic voters will cast their ballots on the 15th of May.

Many are backing newcomers to Lebanese politics as the Levantine nation grapples with an economic collapse, its worst crisis since the 1975-90 civil war that led to mass poverty and a wave of emigration.

By Mohammed Abdelbary

Photo of the day

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (R) meets with Syrian President Bashar al Assad (L) in Tehran, May 8. Assad, who was making his second trip to the Iranian capital since the start of Syria's conflict in 2011, also held talks with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during which both leaders called for stronger ties.