Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1266, (15 - 21 October 2015)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1266, (15 - 21 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The kingdom and the Kremlin

What lies behind the deal between oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Russia, asks Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

No one knows with any certainty why Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Russia are mending their fences at this particular historical juncture.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabian Defence Minister Mohamed bin Salman Al-Saud and Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir gathered in the Black Sea resort of Sochi for an unprecedented meeting on Sunday. Some of the fiercest opposition to Russia’s current military intervention in Syria has come from the oil-rich Arab Gulf countries.

But it appears that a deal has been struck between Russia and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, three of the world’s most important petroleum and gas exporters. The plummeting of world oil prices is putting this trio at a disadvantage economically and so it seems that differences over Syria are just a sideline. And the Sochi Summit is a case in point.

The details of the measures taken to fight the so-called Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and other militant Islamist groups have given rise to legitimate questions about the Russian role in Syria. Why has Russia suddenly decided to turn to military intervention in Syria, many have asked. And will Iraq also be in Russian sights in the near future?

Saudi Arabia has in the past made it hard for the Kremlin to win the battle for hearts and minds in Syria and the wider Middle East. Meanwhile, Moscow has been seeking to bolster its prestige in the region, and sharpening up how it presents its arguments in the international arena.

The Kremlin has dressed up its military intervention in Syria as a measure to protect the secular state in Syria. Moscow has had the chance to show that its investment in waging war against IS has been worthwhile.

The Saudis seem to have succumbed to such reasoning, given the incompetence of the United States. The details of the Saudi-Russian deal reveal how flimsy Washington’s arguments have been, and in the Saudi-Russian rapprochement it is hard not to see a new alliance, a marriage of convenience, between the kingdom and the Kremlin.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed after his meeting with his counterpart, Al-Jubeir, that Russia is determined to collaborate more closely with Saudi Arabia on Syria and petroleum. Putin also met with Sheikh Mohamed bin Salman, a son of Saudi King Salman, even though they differ on certain critical issues.

The Saudis believe that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has not always had right on his side. Russia needs to persuade the Saudis that it is worth supporting the Syrian government. If vested interests prevent Saudi-Russian cooperation from reaching its full potential, then it will count as an enormous missed opportunity for the two oil-rich and politically influential countries to work out a solution in Syria.

“The sides confirmed that Saudi Arabia and Russia have similar goals concerning Syria. First of all, they want to prevent a terrorist caliphate from getting the upper hand in Syria,” Lavrov said.

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