A diplomatic report about the “stormy meeting” in July between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan concluded that the region stretching from North Africa to Chechnya and from Iran to Syria — in other words, the entire Middle East — has come under the influence of an open US-Russian face-off and that “it is not unlikely that things [will] take a dramatic turn in Lebanon, in both the political and security senses, in light of the major Saudi decision to respond to Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian crisis.”
The report starts by presenting the conditions under which the Russian-Saudi meeting was convened. It states that Prince Bandar, in coordination with the Americans and some European partners, proposed to Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz that Bandar visit Moscow and employ the carrot-and-stick approach, which is used in most negotiators, and offer the Russian leadership political, economic, military and security enticements in return for concessions on several regional issues, in particular Syria and Iran.
King Abdullah agreed with the proposal and contacted President Putin on July 30. In a conversation that lasted only a few minutes, they agreed to Bandar’s visit and to keep it under wraps. Bandar arrived in Moscow. The visit was secret. The Saudi Embassy did not follow the usual protocol for Saudi officials visiting Russia.
In Moscow, a preliminary session was held at Russian military intelligence headquarters between Bandar and the director of Russian Military Intelligence, Gen. Igor Sergon. The meeting focused on security cooperation between the two countries. Bandar then visited Putin’s house on the outskirts of the Russian capital, where they held a closed-door bilateral meeting that lasted four hours. They discussed the agenda, which consisted of bilateral issues and a number of regional and international matters in which the two countries share interest.
At the bilateral level, Bandar relayed the Saudi king’s greetings to Putin and the king’s emphasis on the importance of developing the bilateral relationship. He also told Putin that the king would bless any understanding reached during the visit. Bandar also said, however, that “any understanding we reach in this meeting will not only be a Saudi-Russian understanding, but will also be an American-Russian understanding. I have spoken with the Americans before the visit, and they pledged to commit to any understandings that we may reach, especially if we agree on the approach to the Syrian issue.”
Bandar stressed the importance of developing relations between the two countries, saying that the logic of interests can reveal large areas of cooperation. He gave several examples in the economic, investment, oil and military arenas.
Bandar told Putin,
“There are many common values and goals that bring us together, most notably the fight against terrorism and extremism all over the world. Russia, the US, the EU and the Saudis agree on promoting and consolidating international peace and security. 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.”
Putin thanked King Abdullah for his greetings and Bandar for his exposition, but then he said to Bandar,
“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 said that the matter is not limited to the kingdom and that some countries have overstepped the roles drawn for them, such as Qatar and Turkey. He added,
“We said so directly to the Qataris and to the Turks. We rejected their unlimited support to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere. The Turks’ role today has become similar to Pakistan’s role in the Afghan war. 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.”
Economic and oil cooperation
Then Bandar discussed the potential cooperation between the two countries if an understanding could be reached on a number of issues, especially Syria. He discussed at length the matter of oil and investment cooperation, 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.”
Putin responded that the proposals about oil and gas, economic and investment cooperation deserve to be studied by the relevant ministries in both countries.
Bandar discussed the Syrian issue at length. He explained how the kingdom’s position had evolved on the Syrian crisis since the Daraa incident all the way to what is happening today. He said…more here