Letter From the Editors: Oct. 9 - 15, 2017

Author: Xenia Grushetsky

Keep Your Friends Close and Your Frenemies Closer.

The Saudi king’s landmark visit to Moscow still has the expert community talking a week later. Most agree that King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud was not looking to make friends (neither was Russia). Rather, it was a calculated move by both sides - which have had a strained relationship, at best, since ties were restored in 1992 - to secure their position in the Middle East and particularly Syria. Riyadh fears a rising Iran; Russia needs Saudi Arabia’s help to extricate itself from the Syrian quagmire it entered two years ago. Both are apparently keen to make Washington sweat a little. For instance, Riyadh’s intention to purchase S-400 antimissile systems from Russia drew a strong reaction from the US. But, writes Ekspert, Washington only has itself to blame: "The US’s inconsistent US foreign policy makes Washington an unreliable partner. And even if Donald Trump tears up the nuclear deal with Iran, that will not change the attitude toward US guarantees on the part of its Middle East allies and partners."

But what can Saudi Arabia do for Russia? Most importantly, as a party that still holds significant clout with the Syrian opposition, it can unite its main factions into one, also getting them to make some concessions, such as letting Syrian President Assad remain at the helm during the transition period. Meanwhile, Moscow should rein in its main ally in the Middle East - Iran - if it expects any sort of traction with Saudi Arabia. So it seems that regardless of the outcome, Moscow still has to surrender Assad and Iran. Was the game worth the candle?

In any case, Moscow may have reason to meet Riyadh halfway on Iran: "In a Syria ‘colonized’ by Iran, Moscow would be gradually crowded out as a spent force, but in a Syria where various countries compete, ...

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