Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Expelling the Russians from Jeddah | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

An airplane loaded with businessmen from some of Russia’s largest companies in vital sectors, including the oil, construction, rail, tourism, food and agriculture sectors, arrived in Jeddah from Moscow.

However the news of the Russian businessmen’s visit angered Saudi citizens, who see Russian warships docking in the Syrian port of Tartus in order to provide the al-Assad regime with everything that it needs to kill the Syrian people, at the same time that representatives of Russia’s largest companies are landing at Jeddah airport in order to reap contracts worth billions of dollars.

Due to the overwhelming public anger in Saudi Arabia, not a single trader dared to go to the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce to meet with the Russian businessmen. Saudi businessmen simply sent a receptionist to inform the Russian delegation that the meeting was cancelled because the members and businessmen [of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce] could not meet with them. After these Russian businessmen returned to their hotel, the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce – which was to be their next destination – telephoned them and informed them that their meeting was also cancelled.

This represents the expected response to the Russian stance on Syria, which is full of impudence, to the point that Moscow no longer even cares about the discourse it is using to describe the situation in Syria or its unashamed role in the killing of the Syrian people. This demonstrates the manner in which the short – but until now improving – relationship between the “new Russia” and the Arab world has decayed, after the doors of the Gulf States and the Arab world in general had been opened to the Russians. Following the end of the Cold War, Moscow – as well as certain Chinese companies – were granted preferential deals and allowed to become involved in large oil, gas and construction projects and even arms deals, after they had been prevented from being involved in such deals during the Soviet Union era. Russia’s annual trade with Saudi Arabia alone is today valued at $3.5 billion; whilst this may not seem like a huge amount of money, it represents an important positive shift in Saudi’s relations with Russia.

Today, the general popular mood in Arab states – not to mention official stances – are largely hostile to the policies of Vladimir Putin, who has chosen to stand with the Syrian regime in a long, bloody and ugly confrontation that has been filled with lies and deceit. We do not know who is in charge of the Syrian file in Moscow…is this the presidency, the foreign ministry, or the intelligence service? Who is so insistent on Moscow’s support for Bashar al-Assad, even though this represents a political blunder in terms of handling crises? It seems that this is the result of a combination between Russia’s old conflict with the West and the reality today, particularly regarding what is represented by the new order in the Arab world. We believe that Moscow under Putin today is different to the Moscow of the Bolsheviks, particularly as a pragmatic reading of the situation requires the Russians to realize and accept the impossibility of securing the survival of al-Assad or his regime by way of an unpopular war. The vast majority of Syrians are now firmly against al-Assad, not to mention the possibility of him not being held accountable for his crimes.

We have been contemplating justifications of Russia’s stance on Syria for more than a year. In the beginning, we said the Russians are supporting al-Assad because they are betting on the survival of the regime and so they want ensure that they are on the winning side. Following the emergence of vast pockets of resistance against the al-Assad regime forces and the continuation of protests, we thought that perhaps the Russians are trying to implement regime change from within, whether in terms of securing a change of behavior or leadership, in order to guarantee their presence and influence in Damascus in one way or another. When the Russians took the decision to utilize their Security Council veto, and in light of the continuation of wide-scale bombardment and violence targeting unarmed Syrian civilians, we said perhaps the Russians are engaged in broader negotiations with the West. However now that it is beginning to look like the revolutionaries and protesters will be victorious, and the regime is failing in every corner of Syria, such arguments and pretexts have run out, and we no longer have any doubt that the Russians are playing an old game in a new and different era, and they are unable to think outside of the box of their old views. They continue to support Iran, which has been experiencing internal conflict over the past three years and which is internationally besieged. Whilst prior to this, they supported Gaddafi, and when he lost, they lost with him, and this represented a scandalous defeat for the Russians.

What is driving Russia to support an evil regime that is nearing its final days? Is this part of conflict amongst the Russian old-guard and dreams of returning Moscow to the international forefront? Is this part of Russia holding out for mutual concessions, such as regarding the NATO missile shield or the Iranian nuclear program? However despite this, there is also a historic conflict between Russia and Iran, and President Ahmadinejad previously attacked Putin during a public speech, accusing him of seeking to dominate the Caspian Sea. Ahmadinejad attacked Putin, reminding him of Russian attacks on Iran since the mid-19th century during the era of Tsar Nicholas I. Ahmadinejad also mentioned the Bolshevik attacks on Iran and Tehran being denied its rights to the Caspian Sea, where it was unjustly granted the least rights of all countries bordering the Caspian Sea, making reference to the complex conflict that may arise from anew regarding fishing and oil rights to the Caspian Sea.

This is why we fail to understand the Russian policy that is supporting a weak and failing regime, which is now being besieged on all sides. Can anyone draw us a map to understand the Russian mentality?