Saudi Arabia is Trying to Buy Russia at the Expense of Syria?

August 9, 2013

The Kremlin has denied an agreement with Saudi Arabia that would provide Russia with massive arms contracts in exchange for dropping Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

Before the denial, however, there was limited reference to the reportedly proposal in most mainstream Russian press outlets. However, one such mention was in MK, a kind of tabloid. It has been translated below. What’s interesting is that, after noting somewhat incredulously that Saudi Arabia was trying to buy off Russia (note the title) they go on to describe the deal as “tempting” but potentially embarrassing for Putin. – Ed.

According to media reports, the Saudis promised Moscow multi-billion dollar contracts if the Kremlin stops supporting Assad.

At a meeting with Vladimir Putin that took place in Moscow at the end of July, the head of Saudi intelligence and a member of the royal family, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, made an economically interesting offer, conditional on Russia’s decision to stop supporting Bashar al-Assad. That was reported by Reuters, citing unnamed sources in the East as well as in the West.

That offer which, in the opinion of the Saudis, the Russian authorities will not be able to refuse, includes arms purchase contracts totaling $15 billion. In addition, Riyadh allegedly promised, not to compete with Russia on the market for gas supplies to Europe, if Russia agrees to turn its back on Assad. The only thing they want from the Kremlin is to “weaken” its support to Assad, and a guarantee not to veto any further UN resolutions on Syria.

Reuters hasn’t received an official confirmation or refutation of this information.

Last year, according to Anatoly Isaykin, the director of “Rosoboronexport”, Russia sold its military products to 60 countries. The total amount of sales was $13 billion. Considering these numbers, the proposal by Saudi Arabia, if it really took place, looks more than tempting.

However, as has been noted in Western (and, in some cases, in the Russian media) on numerous occasions, for Moscow the situation in Syria is an opportunity to have revenge for Libya. Related to this is the fact that Russia has consistently vetoed all the resolutions on Assad, initiated by the West. Western observers believe that backtracking on the issue now would damage Putin’s image.

Besides, as Reuters’ reports citing its own sources, Russian diplomats are concerned with the question of whether the Saudis have a plan for Syria in the event that Assad falls.

As to weapons, which could hypothetically be supplied to Saudis, “we’re talking about T-90 tanks,” said the news agency referencing Ruslan Pukhov, the director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. “There was an order for the T-90s, suspended for unknown reasons,” Reuters quotes Pukhov. “And if it is about a renewal of those shipments, we can suspect that Saudi Arabia wants something in return and that ‘something’ could be related to Syria.”

In 2008, Russia and Saudi Arabia signed a contract for Russian weapons delivery to the Saudis, reminds Reuters. According to the agreement, Moscow was to supply 150 T-90 tanks, more than 100 Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters, as well as several BMP-3.