Futures & Commodities

US-Russia tensions result in falling oil prices

Russia's oil impact

Oil prices fell nearly 1 percent Thursday after being up over 4 percent on the first trading day of the new quarter.

The volatility can be partially attributed to a strain on U.S.-Russia relations over the Syrian war, a strain caused by fundamental disagreement in the Middle East.

"Everyone agrees that ISIS is a regional threat with global implications," said Alex Kliment, director of Eurasia and emerging markets strategy at the Eurasia Group. "But what they disagree on, is how to deal with that."

Kliment told CNBC's "Closing Bell" that the U.S. wants to combat ISIS in the Middle East by weakening and removing Syrian president Bashar Assad. Russia, who is conducting airstrikes in Syria, claims strengthening and securing the president will help the country focus on dealing with the terror group.

Strain on US-Russia relations

From the Russians' perspective, Kliment added, securing Assad will make them "the indispensable partner for sorting out Syria." This in turn has implications for the European refugee crisis and can also play to Russia's advantage "as they try to wriggle out of Ukraine-related sanctions later this year."

But the conflict doesn't just stop with just Russia and the U.S.

Saudi Arabia is funding rebels in Syria while Iran is amassing troops. Despite these complexities, Helima Croft, chief strategist at RBC Capital Markets, said the market reaction has been relatively anticlimactic.

"You have some of the biggest oil producers squaring off in this battle," Croft said. "And again, the market reaction still has been quite muted given the stakes that are at play right here."

Croft said the market response is relatively low compared to what past patterns have shown, especially when one considers the geopolitical impacts of the ongoing conflict.

"One of the things you have to remember is we have four active wars in the Middle East right now, and the market really has shrugged it off largely," Croft added. "If this had been a couple years ago, if you did not have a supply overhang in the market, people would be a lot more concerned."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) speaks during a news conference with United States Secretary of State John Kerry, at the United Nations headquarters in New York September 30, 2015.
Russia sees 'eye-to-eye' with US on Syria: Lavrov

Croft cited the Arab Spring as well as concerns about Israeli strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities as past geopolitical events to which the market has reacted significantly. Croft said it "took very little" to move crude oil prices in the midst of those events.

"I mean, if you did have some type of headline, something disastrous in terms of Russia striking a U.S. jet, that would obviously push crude prices higher," she said of the current Syrian conflict. "But right now everyone's really waiting to see what happens, how it plays out in Syria."

Croft added that if demand for oil begins to soften, the market for crude oil will become very bearish next year.

— Reuters contributed to this report.