Interpreting Russia’s Response To The Houthis’ Abu Dhabi Drone Attack


Tue, 18-01-2022 08:40 PM, Aden

Andrew Korybko (South24) 

The Houthis’ recent drone attack against the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi elicited a very strong reaction from Leonid Slutsky, the chairman of the Committee on International Affairs of the Russian parliament’s lower chamber. Russia’s publicly financed TASS reported on his remarks, some of which will now be cited below before interpreting their importance:

“Ansar Allah does not protect anyone. On the contrary, it persistently commits crimes against the unfortunate people of Yemen, who inevitably fall victim to this spiraling violence. Instead of taking the path of de-escalation, masterminds of those attacks are relying on confrontation, ignoring humanitarian consequences that their reckless acts will entail for Yemen, hit by one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of the present day.

The fact that the UAE capital was chosen as the target is particularly disgraceful, given that Abu Dhabi, under the leadership of Crown Prince and Deputy Commander-in-Chief Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, - who is a reliable friend and a trusted partner of Russia - pursues the steady course towards maintaining peace and stability in the [..] Gulf zone, mitigating regional controversies. Abu Dhabi is delivering impressive amounts of humanitarian assistance to a whole range of countries and is taking part in early recovery and reconstruction projects in Yemen.”

Mr. Slutsky isn’t a media or political demagogue like some other voices in his country whose reactions to various international events are often misportrayed by foreign observers as representing the Kremlin’s official position. He’s literally one of the most influential policy-formulating individuals in Russia by virtue of his position so his words should be taken very seriously.

The author published an analysis on “Russia’s Position Towards The Yemen War” last November that should be reader by those who are interested in learning about Moscow’s policy towards the conflict. In sum, the Kremlin is attempting to strike a balanced stance since it hopes to eventually play a role in that country’s peace process. Nevertheless, it’ll always strongly condemn what it considers to be crimes.

That’s precisely the terminology that Mr. Slutsky used in describing the Houthis’ recent drone attack against Abu Dhabi. This influential official blamed the group for worsening tensions in this war-torn country that’s presently suffering from one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. He contrasted their aggressive approach to Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s peacemaking and humanitarian one. 

Observers should remember that Mr. Slutsky isn’t a diplomat so he might be a bit more candid in his assessment of the situation than Russian representatives from his Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but his influential position still means that his words carry some hefty weight. If anything, it might very well be the case that he’s saying what his country’s diplomats can’t for reasons of political sensitivity. 

Judging by his words, Russia is becoming fed up with the Houthis’ regular attacks outside of their country’s borders. While the group claims that these are being done in a tit-for-tat fashion to asymmetrically respond to the Coalition’s years-long bombing campaign against them, Moscow evidently doesn’t feel that this policy is justified. If anything, it regards it as regionally destabilizing. 

This latest development prompts the question of why the Houthis would attack Abu Dhabi at this precise moment in time. While it can’t be known for sure, there might be a connection to recent events in that country’s conflict, namely the victories that the Southern Giants Brigades is reported to have achieved near Marib. 

The Houthis might finally feel like they’ve more than met their match on the battlefield. That would explain why they asymmetrically responded to their latest reported setbacks by once again trying to further internationalize the conflict by attacking Abu Dhabi. After all, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) trained the Southern Giants Brigades so the Houthis might hold it responsible for their latest losses. 

Should that be the case, then this suggests that the Houthis might have started to panic a bit since the on-the-ground military dynamics have finally begun to turn against them. They’re used to either making advances against the Coalition or firmly holding their ground, but now they’re reportedly suffering setbacks. Instead of prioritizing a political solution to the conflict, they seemingly decided to escalate. 

Attacking Abu Dhabi isn’t going to deter the UAE from continuing to support the Southern Giants Brigades and its other allies in South Yemen. To the contrary, this will only steel that country’s resolve to carry on its latest campaign. The UAE will not back down after its highly trained allies have finally begun to achieve tangible success on the ground in what might ultimately turn into a military breakthrough. 

It’s of course too early to predict that outcome, but the fact remains that the military dynamics have begun to shift, even if they eventually return to the stalled status quo with time. These unexpected developments seem to have taken the Houthis by surprise, which could be why they decided to attack Abu Dhabi. Regardless of their reasons, however, Russia very strongly disapproves of their strike. 

The comprehensive improvement of Emirati-Russian relations over the past few years could even result in Moscow delivering high-quality air defense systems to Abu Dhabi whose dispatch could potentially be expedited on an emergency basis in response to the latest Houthi drone attack. The Kremlin has an interest in proving its reliability as a military partner so this isn’t pure speculation. 

It actually comes against the backdrop of reports alleging that Russia is aiming to co-produce its Su-75 Checkmate fifth-generation stealth fighter jet with the UAE. This suggests that military-strategic ties between the two are a lot closer than even their own supporters might have thought, which lends credence to the possibility that Russia might at the very least offer air defense systems to the UAE. 

Whatever ends up happening, it’s clear that the Kremlin disapproves of the Houthis’ latest drone attack and regards it as regionally destabilizing. Russia might conclude that the group did this out of desperation and panic following their unexpected setbacks on the battlefield. That might in turn result in the Kremlin recalibrating its balancing act towards the conflict by moving closer to the UAE’s position.

Moscow-based American political analyst 
Photo: Reuters
Opinions expressed in this analysis reflects its author 

RussiaUAEHouthisCoalitionMaribGiants ForcesAbu Dhabi