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Looking Ahead to the Olympics: Bandar Bush and The German “Lord of the Rings”

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COMMENT: With the Winter Olympics scheduled for Sochi (Russia) in 2014, there are a number of interesting things to contemplate. Prince Bandar bin Sultan (“Bandar Bush”), the chief of Saudi intelligence, had an interesting thing to say to the Russians, in the context of proposing assistance if Russia would abandon its support for Assad and Syria.

Indicating that the Saudis had control of the Chechen Islamic terrorists who have bedeviled Russia, Bandar made what could be construed as a Mafia-like threat of protection or violence if the Russians should fail to cooperate.

Recalling the last terrorist incident at the Olympics–in Munich in 1972–there are several things for us to remember:

Also of interest is Thomas Bach, the new (German) head of the International Olympic Committee. There are several things to note in connection with Bach:

Will there by an incident at the Sochi Olympics? Is this what the Underground Reich has in mind? Will the U.S. be blamed by the Russians, because of the close relationship between “Bandar Bush” and the CIA? Will this further German “Ostpolitik”?

“REPORT: The Saudis Offered Mafia-Style ‘Protection’ Against Terrorist Attacks At Sochi Olympics” by Geoffrey Ingersoll; Business Insider; 8/27/2013.

EXCERPT: . . . . Buried inside a Telegraph post about secret Russian and Saudi talks was a strange passive-aggressive alleged quote from the Saudi head of intelligence about terrorist attacks at the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

The talks — divulged in leaked documents — were allegedly about an oil deal that would stabilize Russia’s markets, if Saudi Arabia curtailed the amount of oil it put on the global market. In exchange for their global price fixing — the Telegraph‘s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes that Russia “relies on an oil price near $100 to fund the budget” — Russia would back off its support for Assad.

But there was a threat allegedly hidden in there right along with the fruit.

From The Telegraph [emphasis theirs]:

[Saudi intel chief] Prince Bandar [bin Sultan] pledged to safeguard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is toppled, but he also hinted at Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord. “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us,” he allegedly said.

Along with Saudi officials, the US allegedly gave the Saudi intelligence chief the thumbs up to conduct these talks with Russia, which comes as no surprise. Bandar is American-educated, both military and collegiate, served as a highly influential Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., and the CIA totally loves the guy. . . .

“Lord of the Rings: New IOC chief Thomas Bach”; Deutsche Welle.

EXCERPT: . . . . According to Germany’s “Der Spiegel” magazine, Bach had a consultancy contract with Siemens for around 200,000 euros and allegedly had been trying to use his IOC connections to win Kuwait as a large-scale investor for a Siemens project.

Such accusations have so far never really hurt Bach. . . .

Samaranch protégé

 . . . . Bach later worked for Adidas, learning the ropes of sport lobbying and building his network of contacts. He speaks English, French and Spanish and was supported by former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch. Bach got voted into the IOC when he was just 37 years old. Not long after, he made it to the organization’s executive committee. Finally, in 2000 he became Vice President of what is one of the world’s most powerful sports bodies.

Bach worked reliably at the side of current IOC President Jacques Rogge, waiting patiently for his opportunity. During what was possibly the IOC’s most severe crisis, the corruption scandal around the 2002 Salt Lake City games, Bach got a lot of praise for his crisis management.

Bach is also said to have another powerful ally, the Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad al-Sabah, president of the powerful Association of National Olympic Committees and considered an influential figure in Olympic circles. Just last week, al-Sabah was celebrated at Tokyo’s victory party after his lobbying reportedly helped them win the right to host the 2020 games. He also backed wrestling’s successful return to the fold. Even before the results were announced, the Sheikh had admitted to not just backing, but lobbying for Bach, in an apparent breach of IOC protocol; but that, and a documentary broadcast in Germany containing allegations about Bach’s character and conduct, failed to derail the favorite from his target. . . .

 “The Withering Whispers of the IOC” by Jens Weinrich; playthegame.org; 6/25/2013.

EXCERPT: . . . . Since his appearance at the 1981 Olympic Congress in Baden-Baden, when he was chosen by the then IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch for the new Athlete’s Commission, Thomas Bach has been considered a possible future IOC president. His patron and former employer Horst Dassler – the former head of the sporting goods company Adidas, founder of corruption giant ISL and string-puller in the Olympic world – is said to have once introduced Bach to Samaranch with the words: This is Thomas, a future IOC president.

Many long-serving Olympians know this story. These days they tell it again and again. Besides Samaranch and Dassler, Bach has had a third major supporter in his career: The long-time IOC vice-president Willi Daume, a major German sports leader. Daume stepped down from the IOC in 1991 in order to pass on his place, his personal membership, to Thomas Bach. . . .

. . . . The role of Al-Sabah

But Bach polarizes the most, too. For example because of his alliances and his proximity to the alleged IOC kingmaker, the powerful Sheikh Ahmed Al-Sabah of Kuwait.

Al-Sabah, former OPEC boss, serves, among other posts, as president of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) and president of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC). The Sheikh, an IOC member as well, has been outed as a supporter for Bach.

Al-Sabah is repeatedly mentioned in connection with corruption scandals. Some of his staff and allies are even bribe-takers, for example, his long-time confidant and former OCA general secretary Ahmad Muttaleb. According to court documents he has received millions of Swiss francs from the former sports marketing agency ISL/ISMM. Because of another case Muttaleb was excluded from the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens after a decision of the IOC Ethics Commission.

Thomas Bach maintains important business relations to Kuwait. The company Weinig AG from his hometown Tauberbischofsheim, where he acts as chairman of the Advisory Board, is in the hands of Kuwaiti investors. And in 2008, in connection with the worldwide corruption scandal of the German industry giant Siemens, it turned out that Mr. Bach has been a well-paid Siemens lobbyist for many years. In his role as a consultant he has used his contacts to Sheikh Al-Sabah to acquire Kuwaiti investors for Siemens. . . . .

“Juan Antonio Samaranch”; Wikipedia.

EXCERPT: . . . . During the Spanish Civil War, he was conscripted into the Republican forces in 1938, at the age of 18, to serve as a medical orderly. However, he was politically opposed to the Republic, and escaped to France. He quickly returned to Nationalist Spain under Francisco Franco and enrolled in the Spanish fascist movement Falange.[5] . . .

Discussion

10 comments for “Looking Ahead to the Olympics: Bandar Bush and The German “Lord of the Rings””

  1. It’s interesting to note that the CIA linked “Jamestown Foundation” protested Sochi as a site for the Olympics:

    Translated from the original Russian Isvestia

    http://izvestia.ru/news/549252

    Tamerlane Tsarnaeva recruited via the Georgian Foundation

    (excerpts)

    According to the reports of Colonel Chief Directorate Counterintelligence Department Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia Gregory Chanturia to the Minister of Internal Affairs Irakli Garibashvili, “Caucasian fund” in cooperation with the Foundation “Jamestown” in the summer of 2012 conducted workshops and seminars for young people of the Caucasus, including its Russian part. Some of them attended Tsarnaev Tamerlane, who was in Russia from January to July 2012.

    **

    Jamestown Foundation has repeatedly demonstrated its interest in Georgia and the state of affairs in Russia’s North Caucasus. In 2007, the Foundation held a seminar “The Future of Ingushetia,” which was attended by former fighters of Aslan Maskhadov.

    In March 2010, the Jamestown Foundation asked the IOC to not hold the Olympic Games in Sochi, citing the tragic events of the Caucasian War of XIX century.

    ———————

    The Jamestown Foundation:

    http://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2013/04/26/the-ties-that-bind-washington-to-chechen-terrorists.html

    “The Jamestown Foun­da­tion is a long-standing front oper­a­tion for the CIA, it being founded, in part, by CIA direc­tor William Casey in 1984. The orga­ni­za­tion was used as an employer for high-ranking Soviet bloc defec­tors, includ­ing the Soviet Under­sec­re­tary Gen­eral of the UN Arkady Shevchenko and Roman­ian intel­li­gence offi­cial Ion Pacepa. The Russ­ian domes­tic Fed­eral Secu­rity Bureau and the SVR for­eign intel­li­gence agency have long sus­pected Jamestown of help­ing to foment rebel­lions in Chech­nya, Ingushetia, and other north Cau­ca­sus republics. The March 21 Tbil­isi con­fer­ence on the north Cau­ca­sus a few days before the Moscow train bomb­ings has obvi­ously added to the sus­pi­cions of the FSB and SVR.

    Jamestown’s board includes such Cold War era indi­vid­u­als as Mar­cia Car­lucci; wife of Frank Car­lucci, the for­mer CIA offi­cer, Sec­re­tary of Defense, and Chair­man of The Car­lyle Group [Frank Car­lucci was also one of those who requested the U.S. gov­ern­ment to allow for­mer Chechen Repub­lic ‘For­eign Min­is­ter’ Ilyas Akhmadov, accused by the Rus­sians of ter­ror­ist ties, to be granted polit­i­cal asy­lum in the U.S. after a veto from the Home­land Secu­rity and Jus­tice Depart­ments], anti-Communist book and mag­a­zine pub­lisher Alfred Reg­n­ery; and Cas­par Weinberger’s Deputy Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense for Pub­lic Affairs Kath­leen Troia «KT» McFar­land. Also on the board is for­mer Okla­homa GOP Gov­er­nor Frank Keat­ing, the gov­er­nor at the time of the 1995 Mur­rah Fed­eral Build­ing bomb­ing.”

    Posted by Swamp | September 25, 2013, 8:36 am
  2. http://www.timesofisrael.com/new-ioc-head-to-resign-from-controversial-arab-german-trade-group/

    New IOC head to resign from controversial Arab-German trade group
    Thomas Bach, under fire for heading organization allegedly promoting Israel boycott, still mum on whether he’ll allow a minute of silence for the Munich 11
    By Raphael Ahren September 15, 2013, 3:57 pm 3

    The newly elected president of the International Olympic Committee intends to resign from the presidency of an organization purported to support the anti-Israel boycott movement, The Times of Israel has learned.

    Thomas Bach, a German sports functionary who was elected Tuesday for an initial eight-year term at the helm of the IOC, is the chairman of Ghorfa, the Arab-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Founded in 1976, the organization is accused of helping companies make sure they avoid any trade with Israel. Since Bach’s election last week in Buenos Aires, several Jewish groups have called on Bach to step down from his position at the trade group.

    Bach also came under fire from Jewish groups for opposing a minute of silence for the Israeli victims of the Munich 1972 terror attack during last year’s Olympic Games in London.

    “He will resign as the president of the Ghorfa,” Christian Klaue, the head of media at the German Olympic Sports Confederation and Bach’s spokesperson, told The Times of Israel. He also denied that Ghorfa had anything to do with the Arab world’s boycott of Israel.

    Bach had promised to step down from all his other positions bar one — the chairmanship of the supervisory board at Weinig AG, wood processing company based in his hometown of Tauberbischofsheim — if he got elected to head the IOC, Klaue said.

    Bach himself has not publicly commented on his controversial presidency of Ghorfa. In his candidacy for the IOC top job, he promised that he would move to Lausanne “and devote myself as a volunteer to the service of the IOC.”

    In German media, Bach’s membership in the Ghorfa — and his close relationship with the Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, who lobbied actively on the German’s behalf — was described as problematic weeks ago. After he was elected, Jewish groups immediately called for Bach to resign his post at Ghorfa.

    “Since 1988, the IOC has flown the UN flag at all competitive sites of the Olympic Games, thereby binding the UN as a partner in sharing responsibility for the positions of the IOC and their consequences,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director for international relations, Shimon Samuels, wrote in a letter to the special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on sports for development and peace, Wilfried Lemke.

    “This would arguably include the conflict of interests of newly elected IOC President, Thomas Bach, who is simultaneously Chairman of Ghorfa … [T]his Chamber reputedly continues to issue certificates of negative origin, proclaiming that contractually supplied goods contain no elements of Israeli origin. Such discriminatory certificates camouflaging the boycott of Israel were banned as illegal by the German government over twenty years ago.”

    Samuels also lamented that Bach, then a IOC vice president, argued for the denial of a moment of silence in honor of the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists during the 1972 Munich Games, calling on the UN to demand Bach’s resignation from Ghorfa. “His continued maintenance of both positions will result in boycott polluting sport in violation of the declared principles of both the UN and the IOC.”

    The director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin center, Deidre Berger, said it betrayed “the principles of sportsmanship and fair play for the IOC to be headed by someone who actively participates in ongoing Israel boycott campaign measures.”

    Ghorfa continues to issue certificates of German origin for trade with Arab countries. Its earlier practice of issuing certificates verifying that no product parts were produced in Israel stopped in the early 1990s when Germany enacted trade regulations forbidding the use of certificates of origin to enable de facto trade boycotts, the AJC stated.

    “In response to a query by Viola von Cramon, a Green Member of the German Parliament, the German government confirmed on June 20, 2013, that Ghorfa continues to issue certificates of German origin, verifying that no product parts were produced in Israel, for trade with Arab countries,” the group said in a statement. “The German government says officials from various ministries have spoken on a number of occasions with Ghorfa representatives, including during a high-level discussion last summer with Mr. Bach, about the continuing practice of issuing certificates of origin.”

    A “Saudi Arabia Business Guide” published by Ghorfa, for which Bach wrote the foreword, states: “For religious reasons, there is an import embargo on various goods such as e.g. alcoholic drinks and pork. All imports from Israel are forbidden.”

    But Klaue, Bach’s spokesman, denied that Ghorfa was involved in any boycott of Israel. “There is no political activity from Ghorfa. They are not political,” he said. The organization merely helps Arab countries with paperwork required by the European Union and the German Chamber of Commerce to certify the origin of products, he said.

    “Ghorfa is offering this service for the embassies of the Arab states. This is correct. They are offering this service and have to follow the law of the Arab states. But they are not politically involved in that,” Klaue said. “This is not an issue of Ghorfa but of sovereign states.”

    Klaue also said that Bach has been asked many times whether he would reconsider his stance on allowing a minute of silence for the Israeli athletes that were killed in 1972. “I’m sure he’ll give an answer to that question whenever they have discussed it and whenever that [will become] a topic again,” he said. “But until then I don’t have answer for you on that.”

    Posted by Vanfield | September 25, 2013, 12:57 pm
  3. Robert Parry’s take on Bandar, Putin, The Olympics and Terrorism

    http://consortiumnews.com/2013/09/23/should-cruise-missiles-target-saudis/

    Should Cruise Missiles Target Saudis?
    September 23, 2013

    Exclusive: Saudi Arabia – confident in its leverage over energy and finance and emboldened by a de facto regional alliance with Israel – is throwing its weight around with threats against Russia. But this muscle-flexing is drawing a tough reaction from President Putin, reports Robert Parry.

    (excerpts)

    “Besides supporting the brutal jihadists in Syria, there’s another inconvenient truth: the history of Saudi Arabia’s support for Islamic terrorism across the region and around the world, a point that Prince Bandar reportedly raised during a tense meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on July 31, in connection with the rebellious Russian province of Chechnya.

    According to a diplomatic account of that bilateral confrontation, Bandar sought Russian support for ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while offering various economic inducements to Russia along with a pledge to protect next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi from terrorist attack.

    Putin apparently was offended by Bandar’s blend of bribery and threats, especially his allusion to Saudi longstanding support for Chechen terrorism, a sore point for Russians who have suffered numerous attacks by Chechen terrorists against Russian civilian targets. I’m told Putin also viewed the reference to Sochi as something akin to a Mafia don shaking down a shopkeeper for protection money by saying, “nice little business you got here, I’d hate to see anything happen to it.”

    ***

    “According to a leaked diplomatic account of the July 31 meeting in Moscow, Bandar told Putin, “The terrorist threat is growing in light of the phenomena spawned by the Arab Spring. We have lost some regimes. And what we got in return were terrorist experiences, as evidenced by the experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the extremist groups in Libya. …

    “As an example, I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us, and they will not move in the Syrian territory’s direction without coordinating with us. These groups do not scare us. We use them in the face of the Syrian regime but they will have no role or influence in Syria’s political future.”

    According to this account, Putin responded, “We know that you have supported the Chechen terrorist groups for a decade. And that support, which you have frankly talked about just now, is completely incompatible with the common objectives of fighting global terrorism that you mentioned. We are interested in developing friendly relations according to clear and strong principles.”

    Bandar reportedly replied, “We do not favor extremist religious regimes, and we wish to establish moderate regimes in the region. It is worthwhile to pay attention to and to follow up on Egypt’s experience. We will continue to support the [Egyptian] army, and we will support Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi because he is keen on having good relations with us and with you. And we suggest to you to be in contact with him, to support him and to give all the conditions for the success of this experiment.

    “We are ready to hold arms deals with you in exchange for supporting these regimes, especially Egypt.”

    Besides the possibility of lucrative arms deals that would benefit the Russian economy, Bandar reportedly raised the potential for Saudi cooperation with Russia on oil and other investment matters, saying, “Let us examine how to put together a unified Russian-Saudi strategy on the subject of oil. The aim is to agree on the price of oil and production quantities that keep the price stable in global oil markets. …

    “We understand Russia’s great interest in the oil and gas present in the Mediterranean Sea from Israel to Cyprus through Lebanon and Syria. And we understand the importance of the Russian gas pipeline to Europe. We are not interested in competing with that. We can cooperate in this area as well as in the areas of establishing refineries and petrochemical industries. The kingdom can provide large multi-billion-dollar investments in various fields in the Russian market. What’s important is to conclude political understandings on a number of issues, particularly Syria and Iran.”

    An Angry Putin

    I’m told by a source close to the Russian government that this mix of overt inducements and implied threats infuriated Putin who barely kept his anger in check through the end of the meeting with Bandar. Putin’s redoubled support for the Syrian government is seen as one unintended consequence from Bandar’s blend of bribes and warnings.

    The source said Russia has responded with its own thinly veiled threats against the Saudis. The Saudis may have substantial “soft power” – with their oil and money – but Russia has its own formidable “hard power,” including a formidable military, the source said.”

    Posted by Swamp | September 26, 2013, 9:36 am
  4. The following article concerns the 2022 world football cup in Qatar. Qatar has made major investments in France in recent years. One wonders if a “taqqiya sunrise” might be looming behind this. I don’t have time to translate but the article says that at least 44 (yes, fourty-four) Nepalese workers died in a period of two months last summer on world cup construction sites. There should be an article in The Guardian as well. http://www.lemonde.fr/sport/article/2013/09/26/des-esclaves-nepalais-morts-au-qatar-sur-les-chantiers-de-la-coupe-du-monde_3484869_3242.html

    Posted by le_cler | September 26, 2013, 11:25 am
  5. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/11/01/the_us_saudi_royal_rumble?page=full

    Foreign Policy Magazine
    Friday, November 8, 2013

    The U.S.-Saudi Royal Rumble
    Seven ways the House of Saud could make things very unpleasant for Washington.
    BY SIMON HENDERSON | NOVEMBER 1, 2013

    What is happening to the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia? Even after loud complaints from top Saudi officials that the longtime alliance was on the rocks, the response of official Washington, outside the punditocracy, was an almost audible yawn.

    President Barack Obama’s administration should not be so quick to dismiss the trouble the Saudis could cause for the United States in the Middle East — or the Saudi royals’ determination to cause a shift in U.S. policy. Two articles last month quoted unidentified “European diplomats” who had been briefed by Saudi intelligence maestro Prince Bandar bin Sultan that Riyadh was so upset with Washington that it was undertaking a “major shift” in relations.

    Saudi Arabia has a litany of complaints about U.S. policy in the Middle East. It faults Washington for pursuing a rapprochement with Iran, for not pushing Israel harder in peace talks with the Palestinians, and for not more forcefully backing efforts to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Saudi royals are also angry that the United States did not stand behind Saudi support for Bahrain when it crushed an anti-government uprising in 2011, and that Washington has criticized the new Egyptian government, another Saudi ally, for its crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protesters.

    Saudi royals have evidently decided that public comments and policy shifts are the only way to convince Washington to alter what they see as its errant path. Bandar’s declaration came a few days after the kingdom abruptly decided to reject its election to the U.N. Security Council, claiming it could not tolerate that body’s “double standards.” As Bandar helpfully pointed out, the incident was “a message for the U.S., not the U.N.”

    According to an official in Washington, Bandar’s “briefing” was actually a several hour conversation with French Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Bertrand Besancenot, who then shared his notes with his European colleagues. Whether Bandar intended to leak his remarks to the media is unclear but the Saudis haven’t done anything to wind back his message. Last week, former intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal made many of the same points in an address to the annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference in Washington.

    It is hard to judge the significance of Prince Turki’s remarks, because he was essentially fired as ambassador to Washington in 2007 after falling out with King Abdullah. With a nod toward candor, he made it clear he doesn’t have a role in the Saudi government and claimed not to be privy to its official deliberations. However, given his apparent place on the kingdom’s limited bench of officials that can explain its stances to the world, Prince Turki’s remarks can’t be ignored. As he put it, Saudi Arabia “is a peninsula, not an island.”

    This is far from the first crisis the U.S.-Saudi alliance has experienced. In early 1939, a Saudi delegation went to Nazi Germany to negotiate an arms agreement, part of which would have been diverted to Palestinian Arabs fighting Jewish immigrants in the British mandate of Palestine. At least some of the Saudi group met Adolf Hitler at his mountain top hideaway at Berchtesgaden.

    German arms never reached the kingdom — or Palestine – as the Saudis could not afford to consummate the deal (that was in the days before the oil revenues started flowing in). However, King Abdullah still treasures a dagger given as a gift from the Fuhrer himself, and occasionally shows it off to guests. Visiting U.S. officials are briefed in advance so they can display appropriate diplomatic sang-froid if Abdullah points out the memento.

    But despite the multitude of crises — from the 9/11 hijackers to Saudi pay-offs to Osama bin Laden — past difficulties have been quietly repaired. The operative word here is “quietly” — usually, the general public has not even known of the crisis. The difference now is that, through Saudi Arabia’s move at the United Nations and Bandar’s briefing, the kingdom is all but trumpeting its displeasure.

    Assuming that the Saudi-U.S. relationship is really heading off course, what could go wrong this time? Here are seven nightmare scenarios that should keep officials in the State Department and Pentagon up at night.

    1. Saudi Arabia uses the oil weapon. The kingdom could cut back its production, which has been boosted to over 10 million barrels/day at Washington’s request, to make up for the fall in Iranian exports caused by sanctions. Riyadh enjoys the revenues generated by higher production, but price hikes caused by tightening supply could more than compensate the kingdom. Meanwhile, a drop in supply will cause the price at the gas pump to spike in the United States — endangering the economic recovery and having an almost immediate impact on domestic public opinion.

    2. Saudi Arabia reaches out to Pakistan for nuclear-tipped missiles. Riyadh has long had an interest in Islamabad’s nuclear program: The kingdom allegedly partially funded Pakistan’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon. In 1999, then Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan was welcomed by Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif to the Kahuta plant, where Pakistan produces highly enriched uranium. After being overthrown by the military later the same year, Sharif is now back again as prime minister — after spending years in exile in Saudi Arabia.

    While Islamabad would not want to get in between Riyadh and Tehran, the arrangement could be financially lucrative. It would also help Pakistan out-flank India: If part of Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal was in the kingdom, it would effectively make it immune from Indian attack.

    Alternatively, the kingdom could declare the intention of building a uranium enrichment plant to match Iranian nuclear ambitions — to which, in Riyadh’s view, Washington appears to be acquiescing. As King Abdullah told senior U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross in April 2009, “If they get nuclear weapons, we will get nuclear weapons.”

    3. Riyadh helps kick the United States out of Bahrain. When Bahrain was rocked by protests in 2011, Saudi Arabia led an intervention by Gulf states to reinforce the royal family’s grip on the throne. The Saudis have the leverage, therefore, to encourage Bahrain to force the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet to leave its headquarters in Manama, from which the United States projects power across the Persian Gulf.

    It wouldn’t be a hard sell: Hardline Bahraini royals are already fed up with American criticism of their domestic crackdown on Shiites protesting for more rights. But it would be a hard landing for U.S. power projection in the Middle East: The current arrangements for the Fifth Fleet would be hard to reproduce in any other Gulf sheikhdom. And it’s not without some precedent. Riyadh forced the United States out of its own Prince Sultan air base 10 years ago.

    4. The kingdom supplies new and dangerous weaponry to the Syrian rebels. The Saudis are already expanding their intervention against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, funneling money and arms to hardline Salafist groups across Syria. But they have so far heeded U.S. warnings not to supply the rebels with certain weapons — most notably portable surface-to-air missile systems, which could not only bring down Assad’s warplanes but also civilian airliners.

    Saudi Arabia could potentially end its ban on sending rebel groups these weapons systems — and obscure the origins of the missiles, to avoid direct blame for any of the havoc they cause.

    5. The Saudis support a new intifada in the Palestinian territories. Riyadh has long been vocal about its frustrations with the lack of progress on an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Palestine was the top reason given in the official Saudi statement rejecting the U.N. Security Council seat. The issue is also close to Abdullah’s heart — in 2001, he declined an invitation to Washington due to lack of U.S. pressure on Israel. What’s more, Riyadh knows that playing the “Arab” card would be popular at home and across the region.

    If Saudi Arabia truly feels that the prospect for a negotiated settlement is irreparably stalled, it could quietly empower violent forces in the West Bank that could launch attacks against Israeli forces and settlers — fatally wounding the current mediation efforts led by Secretary of State John Kerry.

    6. Riyadh boosts the military-led regime in Egypt. The House of Saud has already turned into one of Egypt’s primary patrons, pledging $5 billion in assistance immediately after the military toppled former President Mohamed Morsy. Such support has allowed Egypt’s new rulers to ignore Washington’s threats that it would cut off aid due to the government’s violent crackdown on protesters.

    By deepening its support, Saudi Arabia could further undermine Washington’s attempt to steer Cairo back toward democratic rule. As Cairo moves toward a referendum over a new constitution, as well as parliamentary and presidential elections, Gulf support could convince the generals to rig the votes against the Muslim Brotherhood, and violently crush any opposition to their rule.

    7. Saudi Arabia presses for an “Islamic seat” on the U.N. Security Council. The kingdom has long voiced its discontent for the way power is doled out in the world’s most important security body. The leaders of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a bloc of 57 member states designed to represent Muslim issues in global affairs, have called for such an “Islamic seat.”

    The United States and other veto-wielding countries, of course, can be counted on to oppose any effort that would diminish their power in the Security Council. But even if the Saudi plan fails, the kingdom could depict U.S. opposition as anti-Islamic. Such an effort would wreck America’s image in the Middle East, and provide dangerous fodder for Sunni extremists already hostile to the United States.

    Washington insiders will no doubt see any of these potential Saudi policies as self-defeating. However, it would be a mistake to ignore Riyadh’s frustration: While Washington thinks it can call the Saudis’ bluff, top officials in the kingdom also appear to believe that the United States is bluffing about its commitment to a range of decisions antagonistic to Saudi interests. The big difference is that the tension in the relationship is the No. 1 priority in Saudi Arabia — but is way down near the bottom of the Obama administration’s list of concerns.

    Posted by Vanfield | November 7, 2013, 10:23 pm
  6. Robert Parry raises asks a rather chilling question about the recent bombings in Volvograd:

    Consortium News
    The Russian-Saudi Showdown at Sochi
    December 31, 2013

    Exclusive: Last summer, Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar reportedly offered Russian President Putin a deal: if Russia abandons Syria, Saudi Arabia would protect the Sochi Olympics from Islamic terrorists. Putin is said to have angrily rebuffed the offer. Now, with two terrorist attacks, it’s Putin’s move, writes Robert Parry.

    By Robert Parry

    Monday’s terrorist bombings only 400 miles away from the site of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, have a geopolitical back story involving implied threats from Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan to Russian President Vladimir Putin last summer when Bandar was pressing Putin to withdraw his backing for the Syrian government.

    According to a diplomatic leak detailing the Bandar-Putin meeting in Moscow on July 31, Bandar suggested that Putin’s agreement to abandon the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad would lead Saudi Arabia to restrain its Chechen terrorist clients who have been attacking Russia targets for years. Putin reportedly grew furious, interpreting Bandar’s offer as a warning that the Sochi games would be threatened by terrorism if Putin didn’t comply.

    At the time, I was even told that Putin warned Saudi Arabia of potentially severe consequences – suggesting military retaliation – if Bandar’s implied warning was followed up by actual terrorist attacks like the ones in Volvograd on Monday, killing more than 30 people.

    Of course, it is always hard to trace specific terrorist acts back to their origins and many terrorist cells operate with much autonomy. But Putin has staked much of his prestige on a successful Olympics in Sochi, and he also would risk losing face if it were perceived that Bandar had executed a terrorist plan to disrupt the Winter Olympics and that Putin was powerless to stop it.

    According to the leaked diplomatic account of last summer’s meeting, Bandar sought Russia’s cooperation on several Mideast concerns, including Syria, and told Putin, “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us.”

    Putin reportedly responded, “We know that you have supported the Chechen terrorist groups for a decade. And that support, which you have frankly talked about just now, is completely incompatible with the common objectives of fighting global terrorism that you mentioned. We are interested in developing friendly relations according to clear and strong principles.”

    Besides safety for the Sochi Olympics, Bandar raised the potential of Saudi cooperation with Russia on oil and other investment matters, saying, “Let us examine how to put together a unified Russian-Saudi strategy on the subject of oil. The aim is to agree on the price of oil and production quantities that keep the price stable in global oil markets,” according to the diplomatic account.

    I was told by a source close to the Russian government that this mix of overt inducements and implied threats infuriated Putin who barely kept his anger in check through the end of the meeting with Bandar. Putin viewed Bandar’s offer to protect the Sochi Olympics as something akin to a Mafia don shaking down a shopkeeper for protection money by saying, “nice little business you got here, I’d hate to see anything happen to it.”

    Putin then redoubled his support for the Syrian government in response to Bandar’s blend of bribes and warnings. The source said Russia also issued its own thinly veiled threats against the Saudis. The Saudis may have substantial “soft power” – with their oil and money – but Russia has its own formidable “hard power,” including a huge military, the source said.

    The shifting sands of Middle East interests also have pushed the United States and Russia closer together, with the former Cold War rivals sharing an interest in tamping down disorder across the region. President Putin and President Barack Obama cooperated in reaching a tentative nuclear deal with Iran and in convincing Syria’s Assad to surrender his chemical weapons. Putin and Obama are pressing for Syrian peace talks, too.

    Now, however, a new complication has been introduced: Islamist terrorist attacks aimed at undermining the Sochi Olympics. If Putin concludes that the Saudis are behind these bombings – that the attacks are the equivalent of a Mafia don having a store torched after the owner rebuffed an offer of “protection” – then the issue of Russian retaliation could suddenly be on the table.

    Who knows if we’re really seeing a Russian/Saudi conflict developing, but when we consider the possibility of a Russian response to such an attack along with the the kinds of bombs that terrorist groups just might get their hands on with a little help from a state-sponsor, this story is a reminder that modern day madness may not require missiles.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 4, 2014, 7:21 pm
  7. Putin’s latest Olympic charm-offensive may not be very charming but it sure is offensive:

    Putin Says Gay People At Olympics Must Leave The Children Alone

    Associated Press – January 17, 2014, 9:02 AM EST3273

    SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin says gays should feel welcome at the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, but they must “leave the children in peace.”

    Putin told volunteers Friday that gays visiting Sochi “can feel calm and at ease,” and vowed that there would be no discrimination at the games. But he emphasized that, according to a law banning homosexual “propaganda” among minors, gays cannot express their views on gay rights issues to anyone underage.

    Putin and other politicians have defended the June propaganda law as a protection of child rights, but critics believe that the law discriminates against sexual minorities.

    In the wake of international outcry against the bill, Russian authorities have put limits on the right to protest during the Sochi games, which run Feb. 7-23.

    No word yet on whether or not Putin’s decree will also ban random acts of child belly kissing but, if so, it will presumably be selectively enforced.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 18, 2014, 12:54 pm
  8. http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/bandar-resigns-as-head-of-saudi-intelligence

    Bandar Resigns as Head of Saudi Intelligence

    Simon Henderson

    Also available in العربية

    April 15, 2014

    The sudden shakeup at the top of the kingdom’s intelligence service will likely have implications for Saudi policy on Iran and Syria.

    Earlier today, Saudi Arabia announced that controversial prince Bandar bin Sultan had resigned as intelligence chief. According to the official Saudi Press Agency story, the unexpected royal decree stated that Bandar had been “relieved…from his post at his request” and replaced by Gen. Youssef bin Ali al-Idrisi, his deputy at the General Intelligence Presidency (GIP), the Saudi equivalent of the CIA. No mention was made of Bandar’s other official position as secretary-general of the Saudi National Security Council.

    The news comes less than three weeks after Bandar was reported to be returning from Morocco, where he had been convalescing for several weeks following shoulder surgery. Significantly, the spin on his absence was that he had still been running Saudi intelligence from his hospital bed despite reportedly bequeathing at least the Syria portfolio to his cousin, Interior Minister Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, in January. And last October, Bandar ruffled Washington policymakers by briefing foreign journalists on Saudi exasperation regarding the Obama administration’s Middle East policies.

    In the absence of fuller information, particularly on the status of his National Security Council role, the change is likely explicable in terms of Bandar’s health. In addition to his reported shoulder surgery, the sixty-five-year-old former ambassador to Washington was using a cane to relieve a leg problem when he received Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) at his Riyadh home in December. Biographers of the colorful prince also mention other ailments, including a bad back (due to an injury sustained during his career as a fighter pilot) and a tendency toward depression.

    Bandar’s 2012 appointment as intelligence chief was seen as a reflection of King Abdullah’s policy on two key issues at the time: his hardline stance against the Assad regime in Damascus, and his determination to thwart Iran’s emergence as a nuclear-armed regional rival to Saudi Arabia. Today’s leadership switch allows for the possibility that these policies may be changing, as suggested by recent Saudi restrictions on supporting jihadists in Syria. But whether General Idrisi, a nonroyal, has the political weight to implement policy is questionable. Recent intelligence chiefs have all been princes; Bandar himself took over from Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, who was named deputy crown prince last month.

    If Bandar retains his National Security Council role, he will continue to wield influence in Riyadh. But given his antipathy toward Washington in recent months, the change may suggest an opportunity to further close the rift between the United States and the kingdom following last month’s meeting between President Obama and King Abdullah outside Riyadh. That assessment depends on which officials are promoted to fill the gaps that Bandar’s resignation will leave.

    Posted by Vanfield | April 17, 2014, 10:49 am
  9. Given the global and rather dramatic impact of the plummeting price oil, one of the biggest questions in the global economy today is quite simply “when are the Saudis going to open the spigots?” For some nations rising oil might be a blessing. For others it’s a curse. But for Bashar Assad government in Syria, the rising price of oil just might be the beginning of the end. Maybe. It’s up to Putin:

    The New York Times
    Saudi Oil Seen as Lever to Pry Russia Away From Syria’s Assad

    By MARK MAZZETTI, ERIC SCHMITT and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
    FEB. 3, 2015

    WASHINGTON — Saudi Arabia has been trying to pressure President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to abandon his support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, using its dominance of the global oil markets at a time when the Russian government is reeling from the effects of plummeting oil prices.

    Saudi Arabia and Russia have had numerous discussions over the past several months that have yet to produce a significant breakthrough, according to American and Saudi officials. It is unclear how explicitly Saudi officials have linked oil to the issue of Syria during the talks, but Saudi officials say — and they have told the United States — that they think they have some leverage over Mr. Putin because of their ability to reduce the supply of oil and possibly drive up prices.

    “If oil can serve to bring peace in Syria, I don’t see how Saudi Arabia would back away from trying to reach a deal,” a Saudi diplomat said. An array of diplomatic, intelligence and political officials from the United States and Middle East spoke on the condition of anonymity to adhere to protocols of diplomacy.

    Any weakening of Russian support for Mr. Assad could be one of the first signs that the recent tumult in the oil market is having an impact on global statecraft. 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. But they believe that there could be ancillary diplomatic benefits to the country’s current strategy of allowing oil prices to stay low — including a chance to negotiate an exit for Mr. Assad. Mr. Putin, however, has frequently demonstrated that he would rather accept economic hardship than buckle to outside pressures to change his policies. Sanctions imposed by the United States and European countries have not prompted Moscow to end its military involvement in Ukraine, and Mr. Putin has remained steadfast in his support for Mr. Assad, whom he sees as a bulwark in a region made increasingly volatile by Islamic extremism.

    Syria was a major topic for a Saudi delegation that went to Moscow in November, according to an Obama administration official, who said that there had been a steady dialogue between the two countries over the past several months. It is unclear what effect the Jan. 23 death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia might have on these discussions, which the Saudis have conducted in secret.

    Russia has been one of the Syrian president’s most steadfast supporters, selling military equipment to the government for years to bolster Mr. 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.

    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. Its refusal to support such steps despite dizzying price declines has prompted myriad theories about the Saudi royal family’s agenda, and Saudi officials have hinted that the country is happy to let the low prices punish rival producers who use more expensive shale-fracking techniques.

    The Saudis have offered economic enticements to Russian leaders in return for concessions on regional issues like Syria before, but never with oil prices so low. It is unclear what effect, if any, the discussions are having. While the United States would support initiatives to end Russian backing for Mr. Assad, any success by the Saudis to cut production and raise global oil prices could hurt many parts of the American economy.

    After the meeting in Moscow in November between Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, and Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, Mr. Lavrov rejected the idea that international politics should play a role in setting oil prices.

    “We see eye to eye with our Saudi colleagues in that we believe the oil market should be based on the balance of supply and demand,” Mr. Lavrov said, “and that it should be free of any attempts to influence it for political or geopolitical purposes.”

    Russia is feeling financial pain and diplomatic isolation because of international sanctions stemming from its incursion into Crimea and eastern Ukraine, American officials said. But Mr. Putin still wants to be viewed as a pivotal player in the Middle East. The Russians hosted a conference last week in Moscow between the Assad government and some of Syria’s opposition groups, though few analysts believe the talks will amount to much, especially since many of the opposition groups boycotted them. Some Russia experts expressed skepticism that Mr. Putin would be amenable to any deal that involved removing support for Mr. Assad.

    “It would be a huge change, and to me, this is an unlikely scenario,” said Angela E. Stent, a Russia specialist at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and a former senior national intelligence officer who focused on Russia.

    Saudi Arabia’s leverage depends on how seriously Moscow views its declining oil revenues. “If they are hurting so bad that they need the oil deal right away, the Saudis are in a good position to make them pay a geopolitical price as well,” said F. Gregory Gause III, a Middle East specialist at Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government and Public Service.

    For his part, Mr. Assad has shown no inclination to step aside. He said in a recent interview with Foreign Affairs that the true threat in Syria comes from the Islamic State and Qaeda-affiliated groups that, in his words, make up the “majority” of rebellion.

    American and Arab officials said that even if Russia were to abandon Mr. Assad, the Syrian president would still have his most generous benefactor, Iran. Iranian aid to the Syrian government has been one of the principal reasons that Mr. Assad has been able to hold power as other autocrats in the Middle East have been deposed.

    And as a major oil producer, Iran would benefit if Saudi Arabia helped push up oil prices as part of a bargain with Russia.

    “You are going to strengthen your enemy whether you like it or not, and the Iranians are not showing any flexibility here,” said Mustafa Alani, an analyst at the Gulf Research Center who is close to the Saudi royal family.

    But the military aid that Russia provides to Syria is different enough from what Damascus receives from Iran, its other major supplier, that if “Russia withdrew all military support, I don’t think the Syrian Army could function,” a senior Obama administration official said.

    A number of Arab nations have been pushing for the Saudis and Russians — polar extremes in their positions toward Mr. Assad — to find common ground on the matter as a step toward ending the carnage of Syria’s civil war, now almost four years old.

    But, as one Arab diplomat put it, “This decision is ultimately in Putin’s hands.”

    It’s also worth pointing out that, while oil jumped more than 20% in the past week for unexplained reasons, there are plenty of possible explanations that have nothing to do with secret Saudi/Russian negotiations. Still, watch out for a new flood of oil. Parts of the Middle East might wash away with it.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 3, 2015, 6:17 pm
  10. Here’s a description of the emerging Sunni military coalition that’s emerging to counter both Iran and Islamist extremist groups in the region, although the term “Islamist extremists” should really be replaced with “rival Islamist extremists” for an article about a Saudi-led coalition against Islamist extremism to really make sense:

    The New York Times
    Arab Nations to Form Military Force to Counter Iran and Islamist Extremists

    By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
    MARCH 29, 2015

    CAIRO — The Arab states said on Sunday that they had agreed to form a combined military force to counter both Iranian influence and Islamist extremism, a gesture many analysts attributed in large part to their drive for more independence from Washington.

    The agreement came as American and other Western diplomats in Lausanne, Switzerland, were racing to beat a self-imposed deadline of Tuesday to reach a deal with Iran that would restrict its nuclear program in exchange for the removal of economic sanctions. In response, Saudi Arabia and other American allies in the region have made clear that they are seeking to bolster independent regional security measures because they see the proposed accord as a betrayal of Washington’s commitment to their security.

    Regardless of Iran’s nuclear program, they complain, the deal would do nothing to stop Iran from seeking to extend its influence around the region by backing favored factions, as it has done in Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen.

    Many of the Arab nations, including Egypt, Jordan and most of the Persian Gulf monarchies, have thrown their support behind a Saudi Arabia-led campaign of airstrikes to counter advances by the Iranian-backed Houthi movement in Yemen; Washington is providing only intelligence and logistical support, but Saudi Arabia is leading the bombing while Egypt, with the largest Arab army, has pledged to send ground troops “if necessary.”

    How the agreement, announced at a meeting of the League of Arab States in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, will be implemented is not known. Arab military chiefs are expected to work out more of the details. Officials of the Arab League said the leadership of the combined forces, including the question of whether there might be a single command or a coalition of national units, was still under discussion. Each country’s participation is expected to be voluntary.

    But the proposal gained credibility because it was announced in part by the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former general who led the military takeover here in 2013.

    “The challenges facing our national Arab security are grave, and we have succeeded in diagnosing the reasons behind it,” Mr. Sisi said, without specifying those reasons. The meeting, he added, was “pumping the blood of hope in the arteries of Arab cooperation.”

    Egypt has long considered itself the shield and protector of the oil-rich but sparsely populated gulf monarchies like Saudi Arabia. Yet Mr. Sisi has an especially close relationship with the Saudis and their gulf allies because they supported his ouster of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013. The gulf monarchies have contributed tens of billions in financial assistance to Egypt since then, including new pledges of an additional $12 billion announced this month.

    Last year, Mr. Sisi also allowed jets from the United Arab Emirates to take off from Egypt for airstrikes against an Islamist-allied political faction in Libya. This year, the Egyptian Air Force carried out a strike of its own in Darnah, in eastern Libya, in retaliation for the beheading of a group of Egyptian Christians by an arm of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Both Egypt and its gulf allies remain acutely concerned about Libya’s civil strife and the Islamist groups that have flourished as the government and other national institutions have crumbled.

    The idea of a joint military force “has been there before but not so seriously,” said Gamal Abdel Gawad Soltan, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo. He noted that Arab joint defense treaties date to 1950 and a joint military command was previously formed for a time in the mid-1960s. That was during the era of Pan-Arab nationalism, when Arab governments joined forces against Israel. That vision ended in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, with a humiliating defeat.

    “It is the renewal of an old idea,” Mr. Soltan said, “but this time the level of seriousness looks higher, even if we do not know yet whether the outcome this time will be different than in the past.”

    Speaking at the meeting in Sharm el Sheikh, Nabil el-Araby, the secretary general of the Arab League, vowed that the Saudi-led airstrikes against the Houthi movement would continue until the Houthis had surrendered, apparently leaving little hope for negotiating a prompt end to the violence.

    The campaign “will continue until all Houthi militias retreat and disarm, and a strong unified Yemen returns,” he said, declaring that the intervention had saved Yemen from sliding into the abyss.

    The Houthi movement, which originated in the north of Yemen and follows a strain of Shiite Islam, has seized control of the country’s capital, Sana, and other large cities in part by allying itself with military and security forces still loyal to Yemen’s former strongman, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Mr. Saleh was removed in 2012, after an Arab Spring uprising, in a transitional deal brokered by Saudi Arabia and the other gulf countries. While the Houthis have received financial support from Tehran, the Iranians do not seem to exert a strong influence over the group as they do, for example, with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

    Beyond all the “what ifs” raised by the prospect of a sustained bombing campaign and looming ground invasion in Yemen, one of the biggest questions that’s yet to be addressed is whether or not that new regional military coalition is going to be intervening and ISIS and/or the Assad government in Damascus. Fighting ISIS will probably be generally welcomed, but if there’s an attempt to take down Assad’s government the coalition is going to be facing some serious strains:

    The Washington Post
    Saudi Arabia’s hostile relationship with Russia is leaving Egypt stuck in the middle

    By Adam Taylor March 30 at 5:51 PM

    At a gathering of Arab leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh this weekend, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi read a letter from Vladimir Putin. “We support Arab nations in their effort to ensure a safe future and urge them to resolve all emerging challenges peacefully without any foreign involvement,” the Russian president’s message read, to Sputnik News.

    These comments did not go down well with those in attendance. In particular, Saudi Arabia, which accused the Russian leader of hypocrisy. “He speaks about the problems in the Middle East as though Russia is not influencing these problems,” Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said immediately after the letter was read.

    In the increasingly complicated web of alliances in the Middle East and farther afield, Faisal’s comments highlight a noteworthy split. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are important allies; right now, they are partners in a joint Arab military intervention in Yemen, where Iran-backed Shiite rebels have toppled the government. And under the leadership of Sissi, Egypt has become increasingly close to Moscow and moved away from Washington.

    But for Saudi Arabia – a stalwart U.S. ally and a powerful Sunni-led Arab state – relations with Russia have faced a distinct chill in the past few years. It’s an important fault line in a coalition formed by Sunni states to counter the influence of Iran, the region’s Shiite superpower – and it’s probably not the only one.

    Saudi Arabia and Russia’s strained relationship

    Historically, Saudi Arabia has always sided with Washington over Moscow. That relationship was cemented when President Franklin D. Roosevelt met the first Saudi king, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, in 1945 as World War II ended. Meanwhile, Russia and Saudi Arabia had no diplomatic relationship after Joseph Stalin closed the Soviet Union’s embassy in Saudi Arabia in 1938.

    Diplomatic relations were restored after the Soviet Union collapsed, and in 2007 Putin became the first Russian leader to make an official visit to the Saudi kingdom. But in the past few years, Russia’s iron-clad political support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime through the Syrian conflict has led to a serious disagreement between the two nations.

    The most obvious evidence of the conflict between the two nations may be oil prices. Many outside observers have suggested that Saudi Arabia could be using its power to flood the market with oil as a means of hurting the economy of Russia, another oil-producing giant, with the aim of loosening Moscow’s support for Assad. “If oil can serve to bring peace in Syria, I don’t see how Saudi Arabia would back away from trying to reach a deal,” one Saudi diplomat told the New York Times last month.

    Putin himself sees a political factor behind the low oil prices, which experts say have hit Russia harder than economic sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies. “A political component is always present in oil prices,” Putin said in November. “Furthermore, at some moments of crisis, it starts to feel like it is the politics that prevails in the pricing of energy resources.”

    There might be an interesting historical precedent here. During the nadir of relations between Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, some say the Saudis flooded the markets with cheap oil at the request of U.S. President Ronald Reagan. The veracity of that account has been questioned, but, if true, it would suggest that Saudi Arabia is willing to use its economic leverage for political ends – especially if the United States is on board.

    Once again:

    The most obvious evidence of the conflict between the two nations may be oil prices. Many outside observers have suggested that Saudi Arabia could be using its power to flood the market with oil as a means of hurting the economy of Russia, another oil-producing giant, with the aim of loosening Moscow’s support for Assad. “If oil can serve to bring peace in Syria, I don’t see how Saudi Arabia would back away from trying to reach a deal,” one Saudi diplomat told the New York Times last month

    That’s the implicit deal in place: If Russia agrees to “bring peace in Syria” – by presumably withdrawing support for the Assad regime and allowing it to eventually collapse to either the rebels or ISIS – the Saudis will turn on the oil tap in return and end the damage to Russia’s coffers. And don’t forget the reports of similar offers back in 2013 (along with the alleged threats to unleash Chechen terrorists if the Kremlin didn’t agree).

    So prying Russia away from Assad using the price of oil as been something the Saudis have been working on since before this historic drop started last year and now that we have the beginnings of exactly the kind of Sunni-lead regional coalition force that could provide a ground presence in a post-Assad Syria. Does the road to Damascus flow through Yemen? In this case it looks like it might, but it’s going to be a very oily road.

    And since the Saudi Kingdom’s road to Damascus would be major part a much larger realignment of power and influence in the Middle East that would either eliminate Russia’s allies in the region or significantly weaken them, you have to wonder just how high the Saudis will have to jack up the price of oil in order to get the Russians to make a deal…and that’s assuming a deal of that historic nature could be arrived at under any circumstances. But let’s assume there really is a price that could be arrive at, you have to wonder just what that magic price per barrel would be for Putin to give his blessing to a Sunni military campaign on Damascus? $150/barrel? Higher? It probably depends on how low it eventually goes and for how long.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 30, 2015, 6:00 pm

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