Russia Denies Saudi Deal to Withdraw Assad Support

Russia won’t take the Arabs’ money to influence its diplomacy in the Middle East.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia awards Mintimer Shaimiev, the president of Tatarstan, the King Faisal Prize for service to Islamic culture as Russian president Vladimir Putin looks on, February 12, 2007
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia awards Mintimer Shaimiev, the president of Tatarstan, the King Faisal Prize for service to Islamic culture as Russian president Vladimir Putin looks on, February 12, 2007 (RIA Novosti/Dmitry Astakho)

Russia did not make a deal with Saudi Arabia to withdraw its support from Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria, a Kremlin foreign-policy advisor said on Friday.

The news agency Reuters reported on Wednesday that Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan had offered Russia’s president Vladimir Putin to buy arms from his country if he pulled his support from Assad. Reportedly, he also promised that Persian Gulf natural gas producers would not threaten Russia’s position as the main gas supplier to Europe.

Qatar has exported more gas to Europe in recent years as shale gas finds in the United States decreased the need for imports there. Russia is still the most important gas provider, however, and sometimes uses this position for geopolitical gain. Saudi Arabia recently sidelined the emirate in coordinating Arab support for the Syrian uprising.

Putin’s foreign-policy advisor Yuri Ushakov said that no specifics were discussed, however. “It was a very rich and interesting meeting that was of a philosophical character,” he claimed.

Russia has backed Syria’s regime with arms and diplomatic cover since the start of what is now a civil war more than three years ago. Saudi Arabia and other Arab states have send financial support and weapons to the opposition which is largely composed of fellow Sunni Muslims. They also seek to hasten Assad’s demise because he is the only regional ally of their nemesis Iran.

Western powers, aligned to the Gulf monarchies, have been reluctant to provide more than “nonlethal” aid, apprehensive about propping up an increasingly radicalized insurgency.

Putin criticized European nations and the United States last year for expressing support for an Islamist insurgency against Assad’s secular regime. “Today, some want to use militants from Al Qaeda or some other organizations with equally radical views to achieve their goals in Syria,” he told RT television before comparing the situation to American support for mujahideen rebels in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion in the 1980s.

Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin told CNN in May that whereas arms provided by Arab powers who sympathize with the Syrian opposition deepened the civil war, Russia’s underlined “regional stability” and therefore wouldn’t be suspended.