All month Saudi Arabia has been trying to “bid” for Russia’s acquiescence to a regime change in Syria, and just days before a planned US attack, the bidding process looks to be stepping up.
Once centering on a $15 billion arms deal for Russia’s well-connected arms makers, leaked transcripts of the meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Saudi spy chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan shows a much broader effort to buy off the Russians.
The big financial incentive is now an offer to establish some sort of alliance between Russia and OPEC, further restricting global competition and giving the Russian government a major say in the world’s oil supply above and beyond its own major production.
Perhaps at least as significant, and doubtlessly much more scandalous, was the offer of “protection” for the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Prince Bandar openly claimed direct Saudi control over Chechen militant factions operating in Russia which are threatening to attack the games.
“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,” Bandar is quoted as telling Putin.
In effect, the Saudis are betting that they can hang the threat of terrorism over Russia’s head as an inducement to play ball, but President Putin reportedly took Bandar to task for the comments, saying that their support for terrorist groups is “completely incompatible with the common objectives of fighting global terrorism.”
Still, being appalled by the cynical, gangster movie-style nature of the offer and rejecting it are two different things, and the reality is that the offers may be too much for Russia to refuse, even if it means bailing on the Assad government.