Vladimir Putin, Saudi Arabia Agree to Cooperate in Syria

Aleksey Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/AFP
Aleksey Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/AFP

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabian Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman have agreed to military cooperation in Syria.

“We have closely cooperated with Saudi Arabia for years on the crisis in Syria,” declared Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “The two parties confirmed that Saudi Arabia and Russia have similar objectives when it comes to Syria. Above all, it is to not let a terrorist caliphate take over the country.”

Russia has remained Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s largest ally since the civil war broke out four years ago. The war has strengthened radical Islamic groups, most prominently the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), which has established their caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

The Russian government insists Assad needs to be part of the solution to eradicate radical Islamic groups in the country. However, the majority of the world, including the U.S., wants Assad to leave power. Putin “infuriated” Assad’s enemies when Russia began airstrikes on September 29.

“We expressed our concerns that these operations could be regarded as an alliance between Iran and Russia,” stated Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. “But in the conversation, our Russian friends explained to us that the main aim is the fight with ISIS and terrorism.”

A source told the media that Saudi officials warned Moscow that their growing military invention will have “dangerous consequences.” The same source also said the oil-rich kingdom “will continue to strengthen and support the moderate opposition in Syria.” While Russia claims they only target ISIS, many insiders maintain the airstrikes target all of Assad’s enemies.

“The Russian intervention in Syria will engage them in a sectarian war,” said the source. “The recent escalation will contribute in attracting extremists and jihadists to the war in Syria.”

Over the summer, Lavrov appealed to other countries to work with Assad against ISIS. Jubeir rejected Lavrov’s request at the time.

“A key reason behind the emergence of Islamic State was the actions of Assad who directed his arms at his nation, not Islamic State,” explained Jubeir. “Assad is part of the problem, not part of the solution to the Syrian crisis… There is no place for Assad in the future of Syria.”

Saudi Arabia joined a U.S.-led coalition to battle ISIS, which added NATO member Turkey.

Lavrov presented a proposal to Turkey, but they refused Russia’s plans, as well. The Turkish government hesitated the past year to join the fight against ISIS, even though they share a border with Syria. They supported the rebels against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad when the civil war started four years ago. Media reports have on multiple occasions tied Turkey to the radical Islamic group.

Turkey began participating in the Syrian war after a suicide bomber murdered 32 people and injured 100 in Suruç at “a cultural centre hosting anti-Islamic State activists.” Those at the event were about to head to Kobane, a strategic Kurdish town recently recaptured by Kurdish forces. Suruç is directly across the border from Kobane.

“The international community already conducts a battle against Daesh [ISIL],” said Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç. “Turkey is part of an international coalition and provides concrete support to these efforts. Apart from that, we don’t have any other methods or plan in our agenda concerning the struggle against Daesh.”