IS Saudi Arabia Trying to Incite Russia against Iran?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Jahangir Karami
Associate Professor of International Relations at the University of Tehran

Saint Petersburg Conference is held every year usually attended by Russia’s economic partners and some other partners or even governments that are not economic partners of Russia, but for whom cooperation grounds with Russia exist. In this meeting, it is usual for participants to sign contracts and memorandums of understanding. In the recent conference, a delegation of Saudi Arabia with 500 members was present. The Saudi delegates claimed that their presence was aimed at improving their country’s relations with Russia. As a result of their presence, Moscow and Riyadh signed six military, technical and economic memorandums of understanding mostly in the fields of military purchases, especially to sell Russia’s Iskander missile system to Saudi Arabia. The two sides also signed memorandums of understanding on the construction of nuclear power plants in Russia, research, and agricultural cooperation. This, however, is just the external shell of these agreements.

In reality, holding of the conference was a show of power by Russia in the face of the mounting pressure from the European Union and the United States and was an effort to show that their sanctions against Russia have been ineffective. This issue has made Russia more resolute on putting up a bigger and more serious show in order to prove to its domestic public opinion and international media that Western sanctions have failed to put pressure on Russia and there are still countries that are ready to cooperate and sign agreements with Moscow. On the other hand, the agreements signed between Russia and Saudi Arabia are merely memorandums of understanding and are not legal contracts and it goes without saying that turning a memorandum of understanding into a binding contract will be a time-consuming process.

The past experience that Russia has had about signing memorandums of understanding with Saudi Arabia is not a pleasant experience. The Saudi government signed a memorandum of understanding worth USD 4 billion in the field of economic cooperation with Russia in 2007 in order to get Russia in line with anti-Iran sanctions resolutions at the United Nations Security Council and to prevent Moscow from selling S-300 missile systems to Iran. That memorandum of understanding, however, never led to a binding contract. On the whole, relations between Saudi Arabia and Russia have never been positive during the past 25 years.

Despite efforts made by Russia to mend fences with Saudi Arabia, it has not been successful in this regard. Saudi Arabia is still an ally to the West and Russian government’s efforts to this effect have failed to bear fruit so far. It is even difficult to say whether their relations would further improve to a more serious level in the future. Many problems exist between the two countries. Saudi Arabia’s support for extremist elements in Russia has been always a thorn in the side of Russian officials. Most importantly, relations between Moscow and Riyadh have been choppy during past four years over the situation in Syria. Such tensions went as far as mutual threats as a result of which Saudi Arabia told Russia that it would not take part in Winter Olympic Games in the Russian port city of Sochi. The Russian President Vladimir Putin has also threatened Saudi Arabia with military measures.

As a result, the recent memorandums of understanding signed between Saudi Arabia and Russia should be considered as an effort to mount pressure on the United States. Perhaps, Saudi Arabia is trying to convince Russia to reduce its support for Syrian government of President Bashar Assad and it may even be seeking to encourage Russia’s mediatory role in Yemen. Some analysts also believe that Saudi Arabia is trying to convince Russia to prevent conclusion of a nuclear deal with Iran. These are just examples of existing analyses in this regard. It is, however, unlikely that such memorandums of understanding would be able to easily affect Russia’s policies on issues that are considered vital for the Kremlin, including the situation in Syria. Although Russia has its own concerns about the nuclear negotiations and nuclear deal with Iran, those concerns are not so serious as to be considered a stumbling block on the way of a nuclear deal. Countries like France are currently more of an impediment to the conclusion of a nuclear deal with Iran.

Key Words: Saudi Arabia, Russia, Saint Petersburg Conference, Memorandum, Nuclear Deal, Iran, Yemen, Syria, Karami

Source: Arman Daily
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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