What’s the Big Deal Between Russia and the
By Pepe Escobar
November 05, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "RT"
- DOHA - Amidst the wilderness of mirrors surrounding the Syrian
tragedy, a diamond-shaped fact persists: Despite so many degrees
of separation, the Saudis are still talking to the Russians.
A key reason is because a perennially paranoid
House of Saud feels betrayed by their American protectors who,
under the Obama administration, seem to have given up on
The Saudis can’t intellectually understand the
see-saw of incoherent Beltway policies due to the power struggle
between Zionist neocons and the old establishment. No wonder
they might be tempted to move to the Russian side of the fence.
But for that to happen there will be many a price to pay.
So let’s talk about oil. In energy terms, an
oil deal with the House of Saud would mean a lot to Russia. A
deal could produce incremental oil revenue for Moscow of around
$180 billion a year. The rest of the GCC does not really count:
Kuwait is a US protectorate; Bahrain is a Saudi resort area;
Dubai is a glitzy heroin money-laundering operation. The UAE
itself is a wealthy group of pearl divers. And Qatar, as ‘Bandar
Bush’ famously remarked, is “300 people and a TV station,”
plus a decent airline that sponsors Barcelona.
Riyadh – paranoia included - fully took note
of the Obama administration’s supposed “policy” of
dumping Saudi Arabia over an alleged Iranian natural gas
bonanza, which would supposedly replace Gazprom in supplying
Europe. That won’t happen, however, because Iran needs at least
$180 billion in long-term investment to upgrade its energy
Moscow for its part fully took note how
Washington blocked South Stream. It’s also been trying to block
Turk Stream – but that may come to nothing after Erdogan’s
recent election landslide in Turkey. Additionally, Washington
has been pressuring Finland, Sweden, Ukraine and Eastern Europe
to weaponize further against Russia in NATO.
The King goes to Vlad
From the House of Saud’s point of view, three
factors are paramount. 1) A general sense of ‘red alert’ as they
have been deprived from an exclusive relationship with
Washington, thus becoming incapable of shaping US foreign policy
in the Middle East; 2) They have been mightily impressed by
Moscow’s swift counter-terrorism operation in Syria; 3) They
fear like the plague the current Russia-Iran alliance if they
have no means of influencing it.
That explains why King Salman’s advisers have
pressed the point that the House of Saud has a much better
chance of checking Iran on all matters - from “Syraq”
to Yemen - if it forges a closer relationship with Moscow. In
fact, King Salman may be visiting Putin before the end of the
Tehran’s priority, on the other hand, is to
sell as much natural gas as possible. That makes Iran a natural
competitor with Gazprom (not for the moment, as most extra
exports will be directed towards Asia, not Europe). In terms of
natural gas, there’s no Russia-Saudi competition. Oil is a
different story; a Russia-Saudi partnership would make sense in
the framework of an OPEC cutback - if only they could find a
deal over the Syria tragedy.
One of the untold stories of the recent
Syria-driven diplomatic flurry is how Moscow has been silently
working on mollifying both Saudi Arabia and Turkey behind the
scenes. That was already the case when the foreign ministers of
US, Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia met before Vienna.
Vienna was crucial not only because Iran was
on the table for the first time but also because of the presence
of Egypt – incidentally, fresh from recent discovery of new oil
reserves, and engaging in a reinforced relationship with Russia.
The absolute key point was this paragraph
included in Vienna’s final declaration:
“This political process will be Syrian-led and Syrian-owned, and
the Syrian people will decide the future of Syria.”
It’s not by accident that only Russian and
Iranian media chose to give the paragraph the appropriate
relevance. Because this meant the actual death of the regime
change obsession, much to the distress of US neocons, Erdogan
and the House of Saud.
That does not necessarily mean the Russia-Iran
alliance agrees 100 percent on Syria. This week, IRGC commander
Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari once again explained Iran does not
see any alternative to Bashar al-Assad as leader of Syria. He
even acknowledged Moscow might not entirely share this view –
which is exactly what Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria
Zakharova has been saying.
But that’s not the main point. The main point
is the death of the regime change option, brought about by
Moscow. And that leaves Putin free to further project his
extremely elaborate strategy.
He called Erdogan on Wednesday to congratulate
him on his and the AKP’s election landslide. This means that now
Moscow clearly has someone to talk to in Ankara. Not only about
Syria. But also about gas.
Putin and Erdogan will have a crucial
energy-related meeting at the G20 summit on November 15 in
Turkey; and there’s an upcoming visit by Erdogan to Moscow. Bets
are on that the Turk Stream agreement will be – finally –
reached before the end of the year. And on northern Syria,
Erdogan has been forced to admit by Russian facts on the ground
and skies that his no-fly zone scheme will never fly.
Slouching towards Mecca
That leaves us with the much larger problem:
the House of Saud.
There’s a wall of silence surrounding the
number one reason for Saudi Arabia to bomb and invade Yemen, and
that is to exploit Yemen’s virgin oil lands, side by side with
Israel – no less. Not to mention the strategic foolishness of
picking a fight with redoubtable warriors such as the Houthis,
which have sowed panic amidst the pathetic, mercenary-crammed
Riyadh, following its American reflexes, even
resorted to recruiting Academi – formerly Blackwater - to round
up the usual mercenary suspects as far away as Colombia.
It was also suspected from the beginning, but
now it's a done deal that the responsible actor for the costly
Yemen military disaster is none other than Prince Mohammad bin
Salman, the King’s son who, crucially, was sent by his father to
meet Putin face-to-face.
To compound the turmoil, the Yemen disaster
has unleashed some hardcore shadow play in Riyadh involving
those sidelined by the Salman reign, especially former King
Abdullah’s clan. A nasty mess does not even begin to describe
Meanwhile, Qatar will keep crying because it
was counting on Syria as a destination point for its
much-coveted gas pipeline to serve European customers, or at
least as a key transit hub on the way to Turkey.
Iran on the other hand needed both Iraq and
Syria for the rival Iran-Iraq-Syria gas pipeline because Tehran
could not rely on Ankara while it was under US sanctions (this
will now change, fast). The point is Iranian gas won’t replace
Gazprom as a major source for the EU anytime soon. If it ever
did, or course, that would be a savage blow to Russia.
In oil terms, Russia and the Saudis are
natural allies. Saudi Arabia cannot export natural gas; Qatar
can. To get their finances in order – after all even the IMF
knows they are on a highway to hell - the Saudis would have to
cut back around ten percent of production with OPEC, in concert
with Russia; the oil price would more than double. A 10 percent
cutback would make a fortune for the House of Saud.
So for both Moscow and Riyadh, a deal on the
oil price, to be eventually pushed towards $100 a barrel, would
make total economic sense. Arguably, in both cases, it might
even mean a matter of national security.
But it won’t be easy. OPEC’s latest report
assumes a basket of crude oil to be quoted at only $55 in 2015,
and to rise by $5 a year reaching $80 only by 2020. This state
of affairs does not suit either Moscow or Riyadh.
Meanwhile, fomenting all sorts of wild
speculation, ISIS/ISIL/Daesh still manages to collect as much as
$50 million a month from selling crude from oilfields it
controls across “Syraq”, according to the best
The fact that this mini-oil caliphate is able
to bring in equipment and technical experts from “abroad”
to keep its energy sector running beggars belief. “Abroad”
in this context means essentially Turkey – engineers plus
equipment for extraction, refinement, transport and energy
One of the reasons this is happening is that
the US-led Coalition of the Dodgy Opportunists (CDO) – which
includes Saudi Arabia and Turkey - is actually bombing the
Syrian state energy infrastructure, not the mini oil-Caliphate
domains. So we have the proverbial “international actors”
in the region de facto aiding ISIS/ISIL/Daesh to sell crude to
smugglers for as low as $10 a barrel.
Saudis – as much as Russian intel - have noted
how ISIS/ISIL/Daesh is able to take over the most advanced US
equipment that takes months to master, and instead integrate it
into their ops at once. This implies they must have been
extensively trained. The Pentagon, meanwhile, sent and will be
sending top military across “Syraq” with an overarching message:
if you choose Russia we won’t help you.
ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, for their part, never talks
about freeing Jerusalem. It’s always about Mecca and Medina.
So make no mistake; there’s much more pointing
to a possible Russia-Saudi deal than meets the eye.
Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent
for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT and TomDispatch, and
a frequent contributor to websites and radio shows ranging from
the US to East Asia. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign
correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan,
Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong.