Russia’s intervention in Syria in 2015 has seen both Syria and Iran (another Saudi rival) emerge as major victors in the Syrian conflict. Military and political analysts acknowledge that Russia’s heavy intervention prevented the Syrian government from collapsing. In other words, Russia has expended a great deal of money, time, personnel, and equipment propping up Saudi Arabia’s sworn enemies.
And yet, instead of labeling Russia a prime enemy hell-bent on taking over the world and killing everyone in the process (as Western media portrays Russia), Saudi Arabia has outstretched its arms to the former Soviet empire and is well on its way to strengthening the relationship between to the two countries to an unprecedented extent.
As Foreign Affairs explains:
Decades ago, Saudi Arabia was financing and sending an endless supply of diehard religious fanatics to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, demonstrating the historic tensions between the two nations. Even during the last few years, it was reported that the Saudis were playing a game of high-stakes chicken with oil prices simply to attack one of Russia’s core sources of revenue.
In recent months, things have changed dramatically between the two countries. From Foreign Affairs:
“On October 5, King Salman became the first ever Saudi monarch to visit Russia. President Vladimir Putin, who first invited the king to Moscow more than two years ago, hailed the visit as a ‘landmark event.’ Billboards lined city streets welcoming the king in Arabic and Russian, and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had strong words of praise for Saudi Arabia’s leadership.
“After the summit, Salman and Putin signed a packet of documents on energy, trade, and defense, and agreed to several billion dollars’ worths of joint investment. In addition, there are reports that Saudi Arabia agreed to purchase Russia’s S-400 air defense system, making it the second U.S. ally to do so. (Turkey was the first.)”
Turkey, a NATO ally, was also a staunch anti-Assad player in the Syrian war, as was Qatar. Both countries now find themselves working far more closely with Iran and Russia and have almost all but given up on the regime change operation in Syria due to Russia’s military presence. Now, Saudi Arabia may have just joined the list of countries canceling their plans for regime change in Syria and turning to Russia to get things done. (Where is the United States during all of this?)
As the Guardian explained:
“The Saudis have traditionally seen the US as its chief – if not exclusive – foreign policy partner, but changes inside the Saudi regime, as well as Saudi fears about US reliability, have left the kingdom looking to diversify into a wider set of alliances.”
Even if that means working alongside the friend of their enemies, many countries are turning away from the traditional U.S. global leadership approach that has plagued the world for decades, attempting to create their own independent foreign policies, instead. What this will entail in the long run remains to be seen, but what is clear is that the U.S. no longer maintains the control and influence it once did.
Commentary by Jon Masters,