The 14th Al Jazeera Forum
The Middle East and the Russian War on Ukraine: Growing Crises and Challenges 11-12 March 2023
City Centre Rotana Doha 11:00 am Mecca standard time

Concept Note


The Russian war on Ukraine has cast a long shadow on the course of events and has become an influential factor in many of the developments witnessed around the world. Since its eruption in February 2022, the war has revealed its global nature through the overlap of its dimensions, parties and arenas. In addition, its direct and indirect effects have extended to most countries regardless of whether they play a part in it. However, although military operations in the first year of the war have not surpassed Ukrainian territories and fighting has remained confined between Russian and Ukrainian troops, the impact of the war began to expand from day one. The near vicinity became a safe haven for refugees before it eventually became an epicentre for military and logistic support. The general European vicinity, which got involved through its imposition of economic sanctions on Russia and assistance to Ukraine, found itself confronting the increasing risks of the interruption of energy and food supplies, inflation, the declining value of currencies and broadening social protests. It may find itself in the Russian missile range if the war expands for any reason. The rest of the world is not unaffected either. Countries that have not faced a food or energy crisis or direct security threats have at least found themselves in a state of uncertainty.

Nonetheless, like all wars, there is another side to this war, as it has provided unprecedented opportunities for some countries and enabled them to play influential roles. In this context, US leadership of the world order, which was established in the aftermath of the Cold War, was consolidated; and the United States has become more capable of executing its agenda vis-à-vis its two major opponents, Russia and China. This was clearly indicated by Washington’s ability to design and control the imposition of economic sanctions and an embargo on Russia through the financial, military and institutional arms of this world order. As far as China is concerned, there is a historical opportunity to resume its “peaceful rise” in the midst of the volatile clash between the West and the Russian Federation. Despite the ongoing tension in its South Sea and regarding Taiwan, China was able to maintain its interests with the West and Russia simultaneously, especially with its meticulously calculated position towards the war, which both Russia and Ukraine view as balanced. The Russian war on Ukraine may not change much in the current international balance of power but it will definitely pose a serious threat to the post-Cold War global order and leave cracks in it that will not be easy to repair in the near future.

In the Middle East, a region with its own contexts, the two sides of the war – crisis and opportunity – manifested more clearly. The crises that this region had been experiencing before the war were only exacerbated and, in some countries, may lead to severe economic collapse and political and social disorder. This applies to, for example, Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen and Syria. For energy-producing countries like the Gulf countries, Algeria, Libya and Egypt, the war has provided opportunities to strengthen their influence and substantiate the importance of the roles they play in the global energy market. But their ability to capitalise on these opportunities is subject to their foreign policies and domestic conditions. Other countries also were able to use the war to serve their interests and create opportunities and roles for themselves of varying importance. Turkey may be the one that benefitted the most due to its strategic location, manufacturing capabilities and international relations. Also, despite the economic difficulties that Iran is facing due to the sanctions imposed on it because of its nuclear programme, it has also been able to achieve negotiating gains given the energy market’s need for its exports. In addition, its strong and advanced relations with Russia enabled it to enter the battle line in Ukraine by providing Russian forces with drones. The longer the war lasts, the more room there will be for intensifying and expanding Russian-Iranian military cooperation, which will provide an opportunity to experiment with Iranian military industries in the arena of operations and balance the role played by Turkish drones. Thus, new markets will be opened to the Iranian military industries that the state has invested in for decades beyond the traditional arenas in which its weapons are used by groups associated with it in the region. However, Iran’s ability to make the most of these developments remains limited unless it reaches decisive and sustainable solutions with the West regarding its nuclear file and related issues, and revises its regional policies towards its Gulf region, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

These developments were conveyed by the media to the world, and screens delivered an abundance of statements, analyses, comments about and images of bombings, destruction, weapons, displacement and asylum. Simultaneously, narratives were formed about the war and its backgrounds, justifications, and goals from historical contexts and geographic realities, and based on readings of national interests and the principles of international relations and law. Russia did not give the media the ability to relay the details of its narrative to the world, and was satisfied with the statements of the leaders and those responsible for the course of the battles, whereas Ukraine became an open hotspot for global media that transmits the details of the war around the clock. The media may not be a major actor in this conflict, but it certainly plays an influential role in building war narratives, shaping public opinion and mobilising supporters and opponents on both sides. Just as hard power has impact on the battlefield, the media, as a soft power, also has impact on minds and hearts and the formation of positions and orientations.

Programme Schedule

Day One

11:00-12:00: Opening session and keynote speech

12:00-13:30: Session one

The Russian war on Ukraine: A threat to international security and peace or an opportunity to shape a more balanced world order?

  • Russia, the West and the Cold War legacy: Limited cooperation, constant fears and mutual threats
  • The current war and the danger of unconventional weapons to global security: Nuclear, energy and food
  • Will Russia and its allies successfully form an Eastern bloc equivalent to and parallel to that of the West?

13:30-14:30: Lunch break

14:30-16:00: Session two

A year into the war: A reading into conflicting considerations and strategies

  • Putin’s moving objectives: Field defeat or plans and strategies?
  • The cost of sanctions on Russia for Europe: Energy, food, security, migration and the rise of the right wing
  • The West’s alternatives to disengagement with Russia: The obtainable and possible in the context of energy transition policies

16:00-16:30: Break

16:30-18:00: Session three

The war and the Middle East

  • Turkey’s multiple roles: Armament, mediation and initiatives
  • Iran: The nuclear file, regional policies and further expansion east
  • The impact of the war on the Palestinian struggle and the Arab-Israeli conflict

20:00-22:00: Gala dinner

Day Two

9:00-10:30: Session four

Arab crises before and after the war

  • Syria and Yemen: The absence of war and the absence of a settlement
  • Lebanon, Iraq and Sudan: Economic and political crises and the conflict of foreign agendas
  • The shadow of war in other Arab arenas: Libya, Egypt and Tunisia

10:30-11:00: Break

11:00-12:30: Session five

Opportunities for the Gulf

  • Various options for Gulf countries in light of the severe international polarisation
  • Gulf stability in a perturbed world
  • New climates for rebuilding the Gulf system

12:30-14:00: Lunch break

14:00-15:30: Session six

Media coverage of the war

  • How the media covered the Russian war on Ukraine
  • War narratives in the media: Strengths and weaknesses
  • Testimonies of correspondents (from Al Jazeera and others)

15:30: Closing remarks