News / Middle East

Sources: Saudi Arabia Proposes Russia Scale Back Assad Support

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin greets Head of Saudi Arabia's National Security Council Prince Bandar bin Sultan during a meeting in Moscow, July 2008 file photo.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin greets Head of Saudi Arabia's National Security Council Prince Bandar bin Sultan during a meeting in Moscow, July 2008 file photo.
TEXT SIZE - +
Reuters
— Saudi Arabia has offered Russia economic incentives including a major arms deal and a pledge not to challenge Russian gas sales if Moscow scales back support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Middle East sources and Western diplomats said on Wednesday.

The proposed deal between two of the leading power brokers in Syria's devastating civil war was set out by Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last week, they said.

Russia has supported Assad with arms and diplomatic cover throughout the war, and any change in Moscow's stance would remove a major obstacle to action on Syria by the United Nations Security Council.

Syrian opposition sources close to Saudi Arabia said Prince Bandar offered to buy up to $15 billion of Russian weapons, as well as ensuring that Gulf gas would not threaten Russia's position as a main gas supplier to Europe.

Reported deal

Sources said that in return, Saudi Arabia wanted Moscow to ease its strong support of Assad and agree not to block any future Security Council Resolution on Syria.

Another Gulf source familiar with the matter confirmed that Prince Bandar offered to buy large quantities of arms from Russia, but said no cash amount was specified in the talks.

One Lebanese politician close to Saudi Arabia said the meeting between Bandar and Putin lasted four hours. “The Saudis were elated about the outcome of the meeting,” said the source, without elaborating.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, could not immediately be reached on Wednesday for comment about the meeting. A Saudi Foreign Ministry official was also not immediately available to respond.

Putin's initial response to Bandar's offer was inconclusive, diplomats say. One Western diplomat in the Middle East said the Russian leader was unlikely to trade Moscow's recent high profile in the region for an arms deal, however substantial.

He said Russian officials also appeared skeptical that Saudi Arabia had a clear plan for stability in Syria if Assad fell.

Chemical weapons

However, in a possible sign of greater flexibility by Moscow, other diplomats said that in the run-up to the meeting Russia put pressure on Assad to allow in a U.N. mission to investigate the suspected use of chemical weapons.

The U.N. team is expected to visit Syria next week.

“This was one of those unannounced meetings that could prove much more important than the public diplomatic efforts being made on Syria,” said one diplomat.

A senior Syrian opposition figure said there had been a “build-up of Russian-Saudi contacts prior to the meeting. Bandar sought to allay two main Russian fears: that Islamist extremists will replace Assad, and that Syria would become a conduit for Gulf, mainly Qatari, gas at the expense of Russia. Bandar offered to intensify energy, military and economic cooperation with Moscow.”

Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim powers have been strong supporters of the mainly Sunni rebels battling Assad, from Syria's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam. The rebels have been joined by foreign Sunni jihadis.

Assad has enjoyed military support from Iran and fighters from Hezbollah and Iraqi Shi'ites.

Seeking aid resolution

Russia has maintained military sales to Syria throughout the two year conflict in which 100,000 people have been killed, and helped block three U.N. draft resolutions criticizing Assad's crackdown on the mainly peaceful protests against him in 2011.

The Security Council has been considering a possible resolution on aid for Syria for several months and a shift in position by Moscow could alleviate this.

Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Moscow-based defense think tank CAST, said he had no direct knowledge of the offer, but he would not be surprised if a contract to supply Saudi Arabia with 150 Russian T-90 tanks were revived.

“There was an order of T-90s that was stopped for mysterious reasons, and if this is a resurrection of that order then we could suspect that the Saudis want something in return and that something could be linked to Syria,” said Pukhov, who is close to Russia's Defense Ministry. “If the Saudis want Moscow to outright drop Assad, they will refuse the deal, but they may have a more nuanced position, which they could possibly agree to.”

Russia and Saudi Arabia penned an arms contract in 2008 for 150 T-90s, more than 100 Mi-17 and Mi-35 attack helicopters, and BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles, but the contract has stalled for years.

Russian newspaper Kommersant reported at the time that the contract was concluded to persuade Moscow to curtail its ties with Iran, though the Kremlin denied that report.

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Naqubat Ahmed from: Saudi Arabia
August 08, 2013 12:14 PM
hey kk... you sound like Iranian... look at your country - full of disease corruption moral degradation and despair... just watch out when the Azeris overcome their fear and find some courage...

In Response

by: Your name from: Canada
August 10, 2013 2:42 PM
Please go back to the 16th century. The Arabs in Saudi Arabia need freedom and democracy. At least Iranians vote for their president. You have no right to defend the Saud regime.


by: kk from: canada
August 07, 2013 11:28 PM
serious? or kidding?

Saudi give your people ballot, demo and freedom. noyw it is 21 century, not med-century.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid