Ummid Assistant

IDB scholarship forms available at Bhopal's Companion School

IGNOU's preparatory course for students desiring higher education

Welcome Guest! You are here: Home » Views & Analysis

Russia-Saudi Arabia: A growing strain

Thursday September 06, 2012 12:05:54 PM, Alexey Pilko, IANS

Relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia, which have never been cloudless, are quite tense today, something that seems unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, says a RIA Novosti commentary from Moscow.

This is not just because of their conflicting approaches to resolving the crisis in Syria. The reason is that Moscow and Riyadh are on opposite sides of the barricades in the transformation of the Middle East that is currently under way.

Nevertheless, in some ways these countries are very dependent on each other and could become partners at some time in the future. Unfortunately, that could be quite a long time from now.

It is almost forgotten now that the Soviet Union was the first non-Arab state to diplomatically recognise Saudi Arabia, in February, 1926 (even before its formal independence).

Moscow viewed Saudi independence as one more sign of the inevitable collapse of the colonial empires. However, diplomatic relations were broken off in 1938 at the initiative of Riyadh, and relations between the two states remained unfriendly, if not hostile, for a long time.

During the Cold War, Moscow placed its Middle East stake on secular political regimes, such as Egypt (before its realignment in 1974), Syria and Iraq.

Being a monarchical and theocratic state, Saudi Arabia automatically fell off the list of potential Soviet allies or partners. In the meantime, Riyadh regarded the Communist regime as anti-Islamic and incompatible with Saudi values.

Of course, both approaches were purely ideological. But there were also a number of serious clashes between Moscow and Riyadh, especially due to the Soviet support of the Communist regime in South Yemen. The secularization and political modernization (on the basis of socialism) of the Arab Peninsula threatened to undermine Saudi stability.

Finally, these processes could lead to the collapse of Saudi Arabia as a unitary state. This forced Riyadh to strengthen its relationship with the West, particular with the US (the only power that could provide the Saudi government real political and military support in case of serious tensions with Moscow).

At the same time, Russia has its own claims against Saudi Arabia. In the 1980s, Riyadh backed the mujahideen in Afghanistan and the Saudis reached agreement with Washington to drive down the price of oil, reducing the Soviet Union's oil export revenue.

This atmosphere left little grounds for cooperation. However, after Mikhail Gorbachev revised Soviet foreign policy, Moscow began to look at the Middle East from a different perspective. In 1990-1991 it abandoned its unpredictable ally, Saddam Hussein, and did not oppose the Desert Storm. In 1990, diplomatic relations between Soviet Union and Saudi Arabia were restored.

Perhaps it might have been a successful restart.

But further developments showed that relations between Moscow and Riyadh faced other challenges. These appeared very soon when in the 1990s Saudi Arabia (along with a number of other countries) began to transfer money to radical Muslim organisations in Russia and other post-Soviet countries.

It would certainly be inaccurate to say that Riyadh intentionally backed separatists in the North Caucasus to weaken the Russian state and to cause domestic problems for Russia.

However, it is evident that at least a part of these financial resources fed the extremists and encouraged them to continue their bloody work. Saudi militants also fought on the side of the separatists in the Chechen wars. It was definitely an irritant in bilateral relations.

Nevertheless, after the end of counterterrorist operation in Chechnya, there was some slight progress. In November 2003, the Saudi delegation headed by the future King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud visited Russia and held negotiations with President Vladimir Putin.

As a result cooperation between Russia and Saudi Arabia received fresh impetus that finally led to ratification of a number of agreements in the oil and gas sector, science and technology. In February 2007, Putin was the first Russian leader who visited Saudi Arabia.

Up until the Arab revolutions began, it seemed that the steady improvement in relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia was continuing.

In fact, disregarding the political and ideological contradictions of the past, cooperation between Moscow and Riyadh is still promising. Both states could cooperate in the global energy market, regulating oil prices to the benefit of both.

Russia was ready to sell to Saudi Arabia its advanced weapons and military equipment, reducing its dependence on US supplies. Also Russia could present opportunities for Saudi investments. But at present, none of these are likely to be realized soon.

Since the beginning of the Middle East uprisings, in particular after the war in Libya broke out, Moscow suspected (with good reason) that Saudi Arabia was financing and arming the anti-Gaddafi forces.

Later, Moscow was dismayed by the Saudi decision to suppress the opposition in Bahrain. It looked like the classical double-standard game: support the Libyan opposition and shoot Bahraini protesters.

Bilateral relations became even worse when Riyadh strongly backed the Syrian opposition. Unlike Libya, Syria is a key Russian ally in the region. Therefore Moscow reacted accordingly and finally changed its politics towards Saudi Arabia.

At the moment, it is too early assessing if it will be a temporary cooling in relations or a long-term shift. Much depends on new developments in Syria and their impact on regional security, but not everything.

As it seems from Moscow, Saudi Arabia is a key player in a US game aimed at creation of a united Sunni front against Iran (an old idea that Washington first tried to put into practice in 1980s). If the Bashar al-Assad government falls, it will mean that Tehran loses its last Middle East ally.

The "Syria now, Iran next" strategy is absolutely unacceptable for Russia, because in the event of war, the chaos in Iran would soon open the floodgates of instability to the Southern Caucasus and Central Asia.

So by defending Syria and opposing any powers, including Saudi Arabia, that intend to overthrow the official government in Damascus, Moscow is protecting its national interests.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the current crisis in Russian-Saudi relations is the gravest since the 1990s. As the Middle East puzzle gets more and more complicated, it leaves less space for diplomatic manoeuvre.

It is evident if Assad falls, the Sunni-Shiite opposition (led by Riyadh and Tehran) will be one of the main factors shaping the new face of the region. In this highly explosive situation, anything can happen. And the strained Russia-Saudi Arabia relationship will be very dependent on future Middle East developments.

 

 

Alexey Pilko is associate professor at Moscow State University, Faculty of World Politics
 






 


 



 

Home | Top of the Page

Comments

Note: By posting your comments here you agree to the terms and conditions of www.ummid.com

Comments powered by DISQUS

i

i

 

More Headlines

ISS astronauts take second spacewalk

How to detox - Delhi centres show the way

Court declines plea on blocking of web pages

Students' ideas ready for incubation in Kerala

Label your fear to get over it

SC to examine plea to bar criminals from voting

Hike likely in diesel, LPG, kerosene prices

Etisalat says won't participate in 2G auction

Tipu Sultan painting to be auctioned in Britain

What's in the name Hitler?

Music to bridge India-Pakistan divide

Improve quality of education: President on Teachers Day

 

Top Stories

SP, BSP MPs scuffle over promotion quota bill

The Rajya Sabha was marred for the 11th day Wednesday over the 'coalgate' saga, but it was an ugly clash between a BSP and a Samajwadi Party MP that generated the most heat.  »

Scuffles, brawls in parliament, state assemblies

Cabinet nod for job promotion quotas; BJP, SP, BSP spar

 

  Most Read

The message of Azad Maidan

What happened on 11th August at Azad Maidan in Mumbai must be condemned by all in the strongest words. Such incidents can’t be tolerated in any circumstances. The way Muslim youths vented their anger  »

30 dead as flames engulf firecracker factory

At least 30 people were killed and more than 50 injured Wednesday as flames engulfed a fireworks factory after an explosion in Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu, police said. A police officer in Virudhunagar district told IANS on telephone that the accident happened around 12.30 p.m. in one of the biggest  »

 

  News Pick

Parliament disrupted for 10th day, promotions quota bill likely Wednesday

The raging BJP protest over the coal blocks allocation disrupted parliament for the 10th straight  »

Cabinet nod for job promotion quotas; BJP, SP, BSP spar

Jayalalithaa's Sri Lanka muddle will have consequences

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa appears dead set on taking on the ordinary Sinhalese for her inability to influence the Indian government to pursue a Sri Lanka policy of her choice. It is plain ridiculous to suspend  »

India, China to resume joint military exercises

India and China Tuesday agreed to resume joint military exercises at the earliest and boost security ties in the border areas, a source of occasional friction between the two Asian powers. Gen Liang Guanglie, the first Chinese defence minister to visit India in eight years, also sought to assuage  »

Smoking scenes to be allowed again in films - with a warning

Smoking scenes will be back on the silver screen as the government Tuesday informed the Supreme Court that it would shortly permit them - though  »

 

Picture of the Day

President Pranab Mukherjee presenting the National Award for Teacher-2011 to Mrs. Javeeda Akhtar Khan, Jammu & Kashmir, on the occasion of the ‘Teachers Day’, in New Delhi on September 05, 2012. Union Minister for Human Resource Development and Communications and Information Technology Kapil Sibal and Minister of State for External Affairs and Human Resource Development E. Ahamed are also seen.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

RSS  |  Contact us

 

| Quick links

News

 

Subscribe to

Ummid Assistant

 

National

Science & Technology

RSS

Scholarships

About us

International

Health

Twitter

Government Schemes

Feedback

Regional

History

Facebook

Education

Register

Politics

Opinion

Newsletter

Contact us

Business

Career

Education

     

 

 

Ummid.com: Disclaimer | Terms of Use | Advertise with us | Link Exchange

Ummid.com is part of the Awaz Multimedia & Publications providing World News, News Analysis and Feature Articles on Education, Health. Politics, Technology, Sports, Entertainment, Industry etc. The articles or the views displayed on this website are for public information and in no way describe the editorial views. The users are entitled to use this site subject to the terms and conditions mentioned.

© 2012 Awaz Multimedia & Publications. All rights reserved.