Saudi King Salman’s visit to Moscow was one of the most controversial events of modern Russian diplomacy. Advertised by official propaganda as an undoubted breakthrough, it threatens the country with a crisis of relations with allies and emphasizes the essence of foreign policy, dependent on the needs of propaganda and corporate interests.
The deep gulf between the Russian reality and the “picture” drawn by the authorities and the media is obvious to every sensible person. Suffering from rising prices and tariffs, barely making ends meet citizens say: every day their life is getting better. Kafka's worthy pen of surrealism has been filling the information space for more than 25 years. And the leaders of the country are not going to refuse it, rightly seeing in the political fantasies the most important support of their power.
In recent years, foreign policy has entered the category of the main levers of the manipulation of consciousness. Through propaganda she turned into a kind of endless series, distracting the attention of viewers from the really pressing problems. Let us recall how millions of Russians followed the sinking of their hearts in the clash of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump! A "Ukrainian" and "Syrian" series? The average Russian is much better informed about the peripeties of their plots than about the state of the domestic industry or government budget policy.
A refrain of political "soap operas" is the theme of "the revival of the greatness of Russia." In accordance with this myth, which Khlestakov would envy in the company of Bender, Moscow dictates its will to the whole world. Dictates - and the point! And let NATO Tanks stand 100 kilometers from St. Petersburg, even if Kremlin strategists allowed Ukraine to become the worst enemy of Russia, and partners in the EAEU and the Collective Security Treaty Organization in the person of the same Kazakhstan are increasingly resorting to anti-Russian injections ... There is a taboo on public analysis of these topics.
This approach carries a serious danger. Foreign policy becomes a hostage to propaganda, the main goal of which is to demonstrate a vivid picture, to hold a small political show and once again highlight Russia's successes in the diplomatic arena. Hence the increasingly noticeable indiscriminateness in the contacts of the Kremlin. An example is the visit of the King of Saudi Arabia Salman Al Saud that took place on 4 — 7 in October.
Like other more or less serious events, it appears in two “dimensions”: real and informational. Let's start with the first. The Russian-Saudi talks brought no sensational results. Of course, it is impossible not to note the fact that the head of the kingdom visited Russia for the first time in all history relations of the two countries. But this is understandable, given their features. Since its inception, Saudi Arabia has been in the orbit of Western influence — first British, then American. With all the consequences.
If we reject praise, which, according to the laws of Eastern diplomacy, the Saudi delegation did not stint, and the Russian side responded in every way, sometimes even exaggeratedly, the bottom line is quite modest results. Of the 14 signed documents, a large part are memorandums of understanding that carry a minimum of “payload”. Of more specific agreements, we can highlight the creation of joint investment funds in the field of energy and high technologies, as well as the participation of Riyadh in the construction of a toll highway in Moscow and a high-speed tram line in St. Petersburg. The only contract in the field of military-technical cooperation was Russia's agreement to place in the kingdom a licensed production of AK-103 assault rifles and ammunition. For some other types of weapons (TOS-1A flamethrower systems, AGS-30 grenade launchers, Kornet-EM anti-tank missile systems), memorandums of intent have been signed.
Separate conversation deserves anti-aircraft missile system C-400 "Triumph", which allegedly agreed to acquire Saudi Arabia. The Russian media speak of this as a fait accompli, although in reality everything is built on a rather shaky factual foundation. First of all, these are the words of the Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Rogozin, who declared Riyadh’s interest. Secondly, these are some anonymous sources of the Kommersant newspaper, which reported on the achievement of an “agreement in principle” between the countries on the sale of C-400. No official confirmation. Even Kommersant, which is referenced by most other publications, admits that the specific parameters of the transaction will still be discussed, and this will happen at a meeting of the intergovernmental commission, the exact date of which is not determined.
Middle Eastern gendarme
The situation with C-400 brings us to the second, informational “layer” of King Salman's visit. By means of propaganda, he was given exceptional status. Here is one of the typical headlines: “Farewell to America: Saudi Arabia has chosen Russia as a new strategic partner.” Such assessments are clearly intended to create the feeling that the closest ally visited Russia, and the fateful agreements became the outcome of the negotiations. Hence, the desire to extol the results of the visit - up to the frank introduction of citizens in error.
Neither of which real convergence can we speak of. Riyadh was and remains a close ally of the United States. This is indicated at least by the volume of military-technical cooperation between Riyadh and Washington. As a result of Trump's May visit, contracts for 110 billions of dollars were signed between them, the implementation of which is in full swing. October 6 US State Department approved the sale of the monarchy THAAD anti-missile systems worth 15 billions of dollars.
But it's not just the size of the contracts. Saudi Arabia is acting contrary to Russia's national interests. It may be recalled that since the end of 1970, the monarchy has actively supported the Afghan Mujahideen. A significant contribution to this process was made by the current king, and then by the governor of the capital province of Salman. Under his leadership, a committee acted to collect donations in favor of the militants. Similar subversive work was carried out by Riyadh and after the collapse of the USSR. “Independent Ichkeria” received help from the kingdom, and many Saudi Wahhabis joined its armed forces.
The ongoing seventh year Syrian conflict is also fueled by a kingdom sponsoring groups like Jaish al-Islam or Ahrar al-Sham. An open secret is Riyadh’s connections with the Islamic State *. This, for example, was stated in a letter from Hillary Clinton to the head of her campaign headquarters, John Podesté, promulgated by the WikiLeaks website. And it is difficult to suspect the former US Secretary of State of insufficient awareness ...
In general, Saudi Arabia, along with Israel, is the main conductor of American influence in the Middle East. This role of gendarme was actively manifested in Yemen. The operation of the Riyadh-led alliance against the Houthit movement cost the country enormous sacrifices. Meaningless bombing does not stop for a single day. Here are some of the war crimes of the last month: 12 civilians died in the province of Marib; in Hajj Province, an airstrike destroyed an entire family, killed 4 women and 5 children; in the province of Taiz, Saudi airplanes bombed the market ... On October 5, the UN added Saudi Arabia to the "black list" of participants in the conflicts responsible for the death of children. According to incomplete data, only last year in Yemen, due to coalition aggression, about 700 minors were killed and injured. The destruction of life support systems has led to the largest cholera epidemic in recent decades. As of the beginning of October, 777 thousands of infections have been recorded in Yemen, over 2 thousands of people have died.
Contrary to the speculations of many local journalists, the visit of the Saudi monarch to Russia was not aimed at refusal, but at consolidating this position of the Middle Eastern gendarme. At meetings with Putin and Medvedev, Salman spoke openly about this. "To achieve stability in the Middle East, it is required that Iran stop its policy of destabilization and respect international legality," he said. Regarding Syria, the king insisted on the implementation of the decisions of the international conference "Geneva-1" and the UN Security Council resolution 2254. They envisage the creation of a transitional government in the country, the adoption of a new Constitution and the holding of general elections. At the same time in Saudi Arabia (as well as in the United States) interpret these conditions in their own way and insist on the departure of Bashar al-Assad. Cynical frankness was also contained in Salman’s statement about Yemen. As the monarch stressed, the crisis should be resolved in accordance with the initiatives of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Persian Gulf - an organization under the control of Riyadh.
Substituting the back of the blow ...
The question arises: why did the king make these provocative statements in Moscow? To inform Russian colleagues? But the position of Saudi Arabia in the Kremlin is well known. Another explanation seems more likely: the monarchy is trying to force Russia to distance itself from its Middle Eastern allies - and above all from Iran. This assumption has quite a good reason. In April of this year, in response to questions from the American edition of the Washington Post, Prince Muhammad ibn Salman admitted that Riyadh only needed one thing from Moscow — the refusal to cooperate with Tehran. This statement can be considered programmatic: being the Minister of Defense and heir to the throne, Muhammad effectively directs the kingdom on behalf of his 81-year-old father.
To solve this problem, the Saudi leadership resorts to the old-fashioned way - bribing. Having promised large orders to the Kremlin and promulgating the conditions concerning Iran, Syria and Yemen, it is waiting for an answer. A similar scenario was already tested a few years ago, when Riyadh declared its readiness to buy 20 billions of dollars of weapons from Russia, and in exchange demanded that the agreement with Iran for the supply of C-300 complexes be broken. Moscow has fulfilled this shameful condition, having ended up with nothing. As Rostec CEO Sergey Chemezov recently admitted, "the Saudis simply played with us."
Did the Kremlin learn a lesson? I would like to believe this, but many signs indicate that the Russian authorities may not withstand the new temptation. Speaking at the Russian energy week timed to Salman’s visit, Vladimir Putin said that he recognized Iran’s national interests, but, according to him, “not only Iran has national interests, Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have them,” . So the president answered the question whether the Iranian armed forces would leave Syria. The presentation of the Federation Council speaker Valentina Matvienko, who during her visit to Saudi Arabia, declared that Russia "does not set aside the goal of preserving Assad at any cost," also leads to reflections. Regarding Yemen, the Kremlin took a stand-alone position, which in the conditions of the crimes committed there is tantamount to supporting aggression.
The final chord was the underlined enthusiastic response of the Russian authorities to the visit of the Saudi king, which showed the Kremlin’s willingness to play giveaway. This happened at the very time when Iran is facing intense pressure from the United States and its allies. This was manifested in Trump’s promulgation of a “comprehensive strategy” for the Islamic Republic.
In such circumstances, the actions of the Kremlin look frankly unfriendly act against Tehran. But quite predictable, given the peculiarities of Russian foreign policy. The first aspect - dependence on the needs of propaganda - we mentioned. The second feature is the enormous influence on the diplomacy of corporate interests. First of all, raw materials. This was manifested in close cooperation between Moscow and Riyadh over oil prices. From the Russian side, he is supervised by Energy Minister Alexander Novak. The agreements of the two countries became the basis for the so-called OPEC + deal, aimed at reducing oil production.
In other words, raw bondage has a fatal impact not only on the economy, but also on the country's foreign policy. Strengthening sovereignty through industrial development and rapprochement with real allies in the Kremlin prefer cooperation with questionable forces, which in the end will cause another “backstab”.