Matters were much clearer when the world was divided into two camps; between the left and the right or between Washington and Moscow. To some extent, the options were easier, but results were naturally more critical. I recalled this as I saw the leader of Moscow in Saudi Arabia this week. It would have been a rare and even impossible occurrence during the Cold War, when Moscow mobilized its comrades in Southern Yemen, Iraq and, for some time, Egypt, along with a number of organizations that raised the banner of the Red Revolution.
In a rare and undeclared event, with an invitation from the then Saudi ambassador to Britain, Sheikh Nassir al Manqoor, I attended a meeting with the ambassador and a Soviet diplomatic team. Earlier, I had seen a car that bore a diplomatic number plate. It belonged to the most important ambassador to Washington at that time—the ambassador of the Soviet Union. I saw it in the Saudi Embassy car park in Washington. It did not take me a long time to realize who the guest upstairs was. At that time I asked the ambassador, Bandar bin Sultan: “What is the ambassador doing in our embassy? We do not even shake hands with the Russians.” Sarcastically, he replied, claiming that the ambassador had parked his car in the embassy’s car park on his way to the building next door—the Kennedy Center. Of course, I did not fall for that but I did not know the true story either.
To a great extent, this explains the change that enveloped the world and political thinking, even in the least politically adventurous countries such as Saudi Arabia. Moscow-Riyadh relations had altered with the clear Soviet position on Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Since then, the Riyadh-Moscow wall has been demolished and relations have improved, especially as King Abdullah chose to turn towards the east, expanding the horizons of his political and economic movement with India, China and Russia, a policy with which some in Washington were uncomfortable particularly as we saw oil companies, military purchases and huge bilateral investments. In other words, it was a serious relation rather than one that fills a formal diplomatic vacuum.
Now we see the importance of such relations in a manner that touches the most critical of issues, namely, Iran and its nuclear reactor and dealing with Palestine and Lebanon through the Security Council, in which Moscow still holds veto power. Here, not only Saudi Arabia and the concerned regional states but also the entire world wants a constructive position in the real sense of the word. If Russia, being the main supplier of the Iranian nuclear energy project, played the role of a guarantor that prevents Iran’s nuclear armament on the basis of commitments from Tehran itself, this alone would bring the most critical crisis that we are about to experience to an end. The same role can apply to relations with the fighting parties in Lebanon and Palestine which usually depend on another camp, whatever its name may be. We all need a positive, counterbalancing Russian role rather than a negative one in the tug of war with Washington and high-level bargains.
The return of Russia through the Arab door and the great economic benefits has a political price and is expected to play a pacifying role in an uneasy region that does not serve any of the superpowers. During the past bipolar conflict, the Middle East was the most dangerous point of confrontation due to its ongoing wars and changing alliances.