Saudis Increasingly Warming Towards Moscow

It may be they can see which way the political winds are blowing in the middle east

Wed, Oct 21, 2015
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Future Allies?

This article originally appeared in Kopp OnlineTranslated for RI by Hugo Chavez


Following the unexpected meeting in June this year between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabian Prince Mohammed bin Salman, son of the Saudi king, I wrote in an article that the Gulf State appears to be making a historically significant geopolitical shift away from Washington and towards a new working relationship with Russia.

For a while, due to three events in June which couldn't have been foreseen, it appeared as if cooperation between the erstwhile Cold War opponents would come to an end, but finally, reality and a healthy dose of pragmatism have brought relations between the oil-superpowers back on track.

In June this year, a surprise meeting took place along the fringes of the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg between President Putin and Prince Salman. Discussions were held over multi-billion dollar contracts, including on rumoured purchases of advanced Russian weaponry and nuclear power plants. Prince Salman's appearance in Russia was followed up in August by the visit of Egyptian President and close Saudi Arabian ally, Abdel el-Sisi. These visits were followed up by the arrivals of Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince and Deputy Defence Minister, and Jordan's King Abdullah II, for Moscow talks with Putin.

The Saudis and their allies have of late become increasingly dissatisfied with Washington's Middle Eastern policies and the US shale-oil boom that has undermined their ability to dominate price-setting in the global oil market.

The Obama Administration has seemingly become less significant Saudi allies compared to the time when, in 1945, King Ibn Saud granted Rockefeller's Standard Oil exclusive drilling rights (to Britain's great dismay – Ed.) following a monumental meeting with US President Roosevelt.

The wrath of Allah?

By the end of August, all indications pointed at a geopolitical shift of Middle-Eastern Sunni-Arab oil-kingdoms away from Washington and toward Moscow. Then, in Saudi Arabia - the guardian of Mecca and Medina, which rank amongst the Islamic world's most holy sites - two serious incidents took place.The first happened on 11 September [sic!] when a construction crane collapsed at the Grand Mosque in Mecca and around 100 people lost their lives. It was notable that the crane belonged to the Binladin Construction Group. The Saudi Government swiftly imposed a travel ban on Binladin Group executives pending the outcome of investigations to determine culpability for the incident.

Not only are Binladin Group the primary contractors to the Saudi monarchy, but, the family also maintains a close relationship with the Bush clan. During 9/11, Bin Laden family members were hurriedly and discreetly flown out of Washington despite the closure of US air space following the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. They are also related to the notorious CIA-trained Osama Bin Laden. The world truly is a small place.

On 24 September and less than two weeks after the first accident, the deadliest Mecca stampede in 25 years took place when more than 700 pilgrims, some reports claiming as many as 1400, lost their lives in the ensuing chaos. It does not take much to induce panic amongst a packed crowd of 100 000 people. It only requires a few well positioned professional agents shouting "fire!".

It seems unlikely that both the crane incident and the stampede, following so closely upon another, could have been down to coincidence.

Should we believe that this was "Allah's wrath?" At the time when Russia was making preparations at Syria's Latakia port to commence its military campaign, somebody seemed to take an interest in sending the Saudi monarchy a clear warning. Of this I am certain.

Jihad against Russia

The warning appeared to have the desired effect. On 1 October, after the first day of the Russian air-campaign against the infrastructure of ISIS and other terrorist groups operating inside Syria, the Saudi Arabian UN representative demanded an end to attacks against non-ISIS targets in Syria.

After the first week of intensive and highly effective Russian air strikes against terrorist installations in Syria, including those of ISIS and Al-Qaeda, 55 Islamic clerics in Saudi Arabia - including prominent Islamists - issued a joint declaration in which "true Muslims" were encouraged to take the "moral, material, political and military" war to Syrian President Assad's army as well as to Iranian and Russian forces.

In their appeal they stated: "The holy warriors of Syria defend the entire Islamic Nation. Trust and support them, because, if they are defeated - God forbid - it will mean the turning point for one Sunni country after the other."

The declaration described Russia's intervention as an "Orthodox Crusade", a reference to the Roman Catholic Church's major Crusades against the Byzantine Empire after 1095 and thereafter against Islam. The Saudi clerics practically called for an Islamic "Counter-Crusade" against Orthodox Russia. For a while it seemed as if the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Russia were to fizzle out in Arabian sands.

A new Saudi approach

The call for a jihad was, however, not officially Saudi sanctioned. Rather, it was the position taken by so-called "opposition" clergy. Additionally, political relations between Moscow and the Riyadh government - which is independent from the clergy - have changed for the better in recent times.

On 11 October, a meeting between Saudi Defence Minister Prince Salman and Vladimir Putin took place for the second time in 4 months, this time in Sochi. As Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov stated after the meeting, both sides were united in their goal to prevent the creation of a "terrorist caliphate" in Syria.

Should these positive trends continue, it would signify an important step towards peace in the region, because, multiple terrorist groups active in Syria were supported and financed with the goal of overthrowing Assad during the reign of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and Prince Bandar, his intelligence chief. Bandar was abruptly dismissed by the new king in January, signalling the pursuit of new policies by Riyadh.

This development was further underlined by the 11 October meeting in Sochi. Despite the incidents in Mecca and pressure from Washington, the Saudi Royal House decided to pursue rapprochement with Russia, including giving their support for Russian air strikes in Syria.

Worldwide approach to oil

Another indication suggesting a shift away from Washington appeared three days after the Sochi talks between Putin and Prince Salman. Alexander Novak, the Russian Energy Minister, announced that a November meeting to discuss the global oil market with Saudi and Iranian representatives is being planned.

"The meeting together with Saudi Arabia and Iran will take place in November", according to Novak. Russia's Energy Ministry has also been invited to a conference on 21 October with Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) experts.

These Saudi and Arab OPEC-country overtures, toward Russia and potentially also Iran, open the possibility for their participation in the largest global infrastructure project, namely China's "One Belt, One Road" initiative for Eurasia, in which the Russian Federation and Eurasian Economic Union member states (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia) are already fully integrated.

It would be much more preferable to deal now, rather than later, with the thousands of feral terrorists in Syria and Iraq before they threaten the security of the Saudi Kingdom and other Gulf Monarchies, which is what would happen if these groups aren't eradicated.

On 22 September, the online journal New Eastern Outlook published an analysis in which I stated: "Washington has now lost the Middle East". This was published only days before the world became aware of Russia's military build-up in Latakia and before Russia started a genuine war against terror. (Unlike the US and EU's imaginary efforts - Ed.) Today this forecast seems more likely than ever.

A global oil exploration agreement between Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran would deprive Washington of one of its sharpest geopolitical razors. The former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, reportedly said during the 1970's oil crisis: "Control oil and you control nations."

Now they are avenging Washington's greasy geopolitical sins.

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