TEL AVIV – Russia’s decision to withdraw some of its forces from Syria was made thanks to reassurances provided by Saudi Arabia, the main sponsor of militias fighting President Bashar Assad’s regime, a senior Arab diplomat told Breitbart Jerusalem.
After the radical jihadi organizations Al-Nusra Front and Islamic State excluded themselves from last month’s ceasefire agreement, and Russia and other international forces retaliated, “it became clear that a Russian-Saudi pact would be the key to the survival of the cease-fire,” the diplomat said. “Unless Riyadh, on the one hand, and Moscow, on the other, told their respective allies to honor the ceasefire, it wouldn’t have lasted.”
The official also said that Saudi Arabia is in the process of negotiating a massive arms deal with Russia and the two countries are coordinating future positions on oil trade.
Despite their differences on Assad’s potential fate, Russia and Saudi Arabia are working toward an agreed-upon diplomatic solution to the Syria conflict, he said.
“We’ve recently started hearing opposition leaders saying they don’t rule out negotiating with Assad, and how they didn’t celebrate the Russian withdrawal as a victory, necessarily,” he said. “That is a direct result of messages coming from Riyadh, that the Saudis have come to terms with Russia’s involvement in the resolution of the conflict.”
The diplomat said that Riyadh’s overture towards Russia signals that the Saudi government is following up on its stated strategy of forging new alliances in the region.
“The best example is the cooling of relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey against the backdrop of the latter’s rapprochement with Iran,” he said. “The Saudis have realized that Ankara refuses to discuss a political solution to the Syria crisis that would include a solution to the Kurdish question. The fact that it’s also a red line for Iran, because a majority of Kurds are Sunni and therefore may ally with Tehran’s regional rivals, drew them closer to each other.”
The diplomat’s analysis portends a significant shift in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, where traditional U.S. allies are orienting themselves toward Moscow as the Obama administration has taken a back seat on Syria and cooled its relationships with Sunni Arab states.
“America’s growing disinterestedness in the region played a significant role in these developments,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve seen the end of it. It may spill over from Syria to Yemen and other countries. Also, in light of a Saudi-Russian honeymoon, other Gulf States may follow suit.”