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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2738

Can Saudi Arabia get Russia to deal with Iran or Syria?

By Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal

Middle East has been embroiled in oil problem as the region with vast energy resources remains the target of world powers. Since energy resources have become vital for the globalizing world and big powers requiring more oil and gas to sustain and cater for the demands of ever growing populations globally.

Saudi Arabia is still ill-focused on Shiite Iran and its ally Syria. Since all efforts by Saudi government to get President Bashar al-Assad of Syria out of power by using USA and allies have failed now it is trying to influence Russia, a close ally of Iran and Syria to help the Arab world leader Saudi kingdom to achieve the objective of regime change in Damascus.

Supported by Russia and Iran, President Bashar al-Assad clearly refused to oblige both Washington and Riyadh by stepping down. For the iron-willed Kremlin, the western sanctions over Crimea and Ukraine are not a surprise and Russians always expected them from the cold war adversaries. Russia is reeling from both economic sanctions from USA and EU and the effects of plummeting oil prices.

Due to western sanctions, Russia has lost a lot economically and financially. Being a former super power that the USA really feared, Russia stubbornly withstands all these financial pressures mainly because of its robust arms trade. USA is unable to successfully compete with Russia on weapons sales because it sells them at high prices while it engages Israel to sell its arms at cheaper rates.

US strategists argue that America indirectly helps the Russians with opportunities to sell arms and oil to Iran and Syria.

Punitive measures against Russia, explicitly mentioned in US President Barack Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address, paved the way for greater Russian-Iranian and Russian-Syrian cooperation at a time of increased mutual interests between the two countries in the Middle East.

However, there is also the negative aspect too. Iran and Russia are both adversely affected by falling oil prices; and while the situation in Ukraine has created tensions for Russia in Europe, Iran faces tensions in the Middle East and both countries are subject to western sanctions.

Russian firmness against pressures is known to the west. Sanctions imposed by the United States and European countries have not prompted Moscow to end its military involvement in Ukraine, and stubborn Putin has remained steadfast in his support for Assad, whom he sees as a bulwark in a region made increasingly volatile by Islamic extremism.

Besides domestic polices support the Vladimir Putin government stay in good stead, notwithstanding all foreign economic setback on account of its interference in East Ukraine. Moreover, Russia economic relations with non-western countries are in good shape, absorbing all western shocks.

Saudi Arabia, by using its dominance of the global oil markets, has been trying to pressure President Vladimir Putin, facing grave sanctions, to abandon his support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. And the new Saudi leadership is inclined to believe that Russia would listen to Riyadh.

With a fifth of the world’s oil reserves, Saudi Arabia is the leading player in OPEC and has great sway over any move by the cartel to raise prices by cutting production. Saudi officials have some leverage over Putin because of their ability to reduce the supply of oil and possibly drive up prices. Saudi Arabia and Russia have had numerous discussions over the past several months that have yet to produce a significant breakthrough.

The drop in oil prices has been felt in Saudi Arabia, but the country’s vast oil reserves and accumulated wealth give it a far greater cushion than other oil-producing nations have. Saudi Arabia needs the price of oil to be over $100 a barrel to cover its federal spending, including a lavish budget for infrastructure projects. The current price is about $50 a barrel, and Saudi Arabia has projected a 2015 deficit of about $39 billion. The Saudi monarchy has about $733 billion in savings invested in low-risk assets abroad, and it can afford to dip into that for a few years without much pain. Russia and Iran have no such luxury, and neither do shale-fracking oil producers in North America.

Both Saudi Arabia and Russia have rejected the idea that international politics should play a role in setting oil prices.

Saudi officials have said publicly that the price of oil reflects only global supply and demand, and they have insisted that Saudi Arabia will not let geopolitics drive its economic agenda. Riyadh expects diplomatic benefits to the country’s current strategy of allowing oil prices to stay low — including a chance to negotiate an exit for Assad. Saudi officials have hinted that the country is happy to let the low prices punish rival producers who use more expensive shale-fracking techniques.

Syria was a major topic for a Saudi delegation that went to Moscow in November and there had been a steady dialogue between the two countries over the past several months.

Putin, however, has frequently demonstrated that he would rather accept economic hardship than buckle to outside pressures to change his policies. Russia has been one of the Syrian president’s most steadfast supporters, selling military equipment to the government for years to bolster Assad’s forces in their battle against rebel groups, including the Islamic State, and supplying everything from spare parts and specialty fuels to sniper training and helicopter maintenance.

For decades, the Russians have used their ties with Iran as a bargaining chip in their complex relationship with the West.

Russia also has had its own misgivings about Iranian policies, particularly when it comes to Iran’s attempts to possess nuclear technology. At last year’s Moscow Non-Proliferation Conference, the Russian position was closer to that of the West than Iran’s. There is also a widespread belief amongst Russian officials that Iran will not hesitate to ditch them the moment its relations with the West, particularly with the US, are repaired.

Russia has for long also refused to provide maintenance services for Iran’s fleet of submarines, which would have given it increased operational maneuverability in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Moscow dragged its feet over the construction and operation of the Bushehr nuclear reactor, using it as a pawn in dealings with the West.

The United States supports initiatives to end Russian backing for Assad, any success by the Saudis to cut production and raise global oil prices could hurt many parts of the American economy.

It looks Saudi kingdom, opposing Shi’a nations for no sensible reasons, is trying to get Moscow on board by using its oil status to contain Syria while USA is busy coercing Iran to become nuclear free in Middle East where only Israel is authorized to own nukes by American leaders, including Jewish Americans who get elected to the US Congress and other important bodies to control policies of America, besides funding both Republican and Democratic parties in US polls liberally.

It appears America exists today only to protect a criminal Zionist regime by supplying advanced arms and technology, by defending Zionist criminal actions at international forums and misusing its veto on a discredited UNSC exclusively to shield Israeli regime from any possible punishment for its crimes against humanity.

Even as Palestine issue is getting complicated due to dirty occupational tactics of Israel-US duo, and Ukraine is burning without respite, Saudi Arabia, aided by Israel, seems to be busy targeting Iran and Syria. Saudi leaders are angry with Americans because they did not do much against Iran and Syria, now it tries to court Russia to get President Bashar al-Assad out.

The net result of all this is the continued oppression of Palestinians by Israeli military and police. How far Riyadh would be able to influence the current foreign policy of Russia to make it stop arming and helping Iran and Syria, when Russian economy now depends heavily on its arms trade?

Instead of using USA to force a settlement of Palestine issue, Saudi Arabia indirectly promotes Zionism as it seeks Israeli help in sternly dealing with Iran and Syria. It would benefit Islam and Muslim nations if Saudi Arabia and Iran hold a permanent dialogue on Islamic unity. Islam needs to be revitalized to its early period of glory. Infighting in Sunni-Shi’a without understating the message of Islam has already harmed Muslim nations and Islam.

The main issue here is when Shiia are allowed to perform Holy Hajj in Saudi Arabia, what exactly is the real problem that worries the custodian of Holy Mosques?

One eagerly wishes US leaders shed the pro-Israel policy and showed enough mercy on the besieged Palestinians who also deserve human dignity.

- Asian Tribune -

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