By Arab News
By Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed
From Moscow to Jeddah came an aircraft loaded with businessmen from giant Russian companies dealing in oil, construction, railways, tourism, food and agriculture. The news about the visit of the Russian businessmen infuriated Saudi citizens who saw Russian warships at Tartous seaport supplying Syrian President Bashar Assad with all the weaponry he needed to kill the Syrian people.
The plane carrying representatives of Russian companies landed in Jeddah to sign contracts worth billions of dollars. But, because of the overwhelming anger in Saudi Arabia against the Russians, not a single Saudi businessman went to the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry to meet the visiting businessmen. They sent a receptionist to inform the Russian delegates that their scheduled meeting with Saudi businessmen had been canceled as no Saudi businessman was willing to sit with them. After they returned to their hotel in Jeddah, they got a call from the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry — which was to be their second leg of visit to the Kingdom — informing them that their meeting with Riyadh businessmen had also been canceled.
This is an expected reaction to the Russian attitude vis-à-vis the Syrian crisis. The Russians did not even bother much about the words they used to describe the incidents in Syria. They did not feel ashamed of Russia’s role in the killings of the Syrian people. The short-lived good relationship between the new Russia and the Arab world has thus deteriorated after the GCC and the entire Arab world had opened their doors wide for the Russians. After the end of the Cold War, Moscow and Chinese companies were given a preferential treatment. They were asked to enter into oil and gas projects in addition to the giant construction schemes and even mega arms deals. This had been forbidden for Russia and China during the time of the differences with the Communist bloc.
The Kingdom’s trade volume with Russia alone was more than $3.5 billion. This might not be a big figure, but it nevertheless represented an important change in the relationships with the Russians.
Today, the general public opinion and the official attitudes of most of the Arab countries is largely hostile toward the policy of Vladimir Putin, who opted to stand by the Syrian regime in its long, bloody and ugly battle against its people. We do not know who deals with the Syrian affairs in Moscow: Is it the presidency, the Foreign Ministry or the intelligence? Nor do we know why the Russians insist on supporting Assad. Whoever deals with the Syrian affairs does that in complete political ignorance of the management of the entire crisis. It seems that whoever handles the Syrian crisis in Moscow has failed to differentiate between the old Russia-West conflict and the situation of today represented by the new Arab order. We will assume that the “Putin Moscow” is not the Bolshevik one. Pragmatism makes it imperative that Moscow accept and realize that it is not possible for Assad or his regime to escape unscathed from an uneven war. The overwhelming majority of the Syrian people are against Assad and the possibility of his remaining in power for long is out of question.
For more than a year we have been justifying Russian attitude vis-a-vis in Syria. We said at the beginning that the Russians supported Assad because they were certain the regime would hold, so it was better for them to stand by the triumphant. When resistance emerged and the demonstrations against Assad increased, we said the Russians continued their support for the regime hoping the regime change either by amending its conduct or deposing its head. When the Russians repeatedly used the veto in the Security Council while the regime continued to kill its people, we thought the Russians might be involved in broader negotiations with the West for a solution.
When the signs of victory appeared in favor of the freedom fighters and the weakness of the regime became evident, the logic we used to justify the Russian stand diminished. We have no doubt now that the Russians were playing an old game in a new and different era. The Russians have been unable to think differently or abandon their old style. The Russians are supporting Iran, which has been in turmoil for more than three years and is internationally besieged. Earlier, they bet on Qaddafi and lost. Their defeat in Libya scandalized them.
What prompts the Russians to support a rotten regime on the brink of collapse? Is it the old conflict between camps and the dream of Russia to become a superpower again? Is it the calculations of the Russians to make mutual compromises, such as the NATO nuclear shield or allowing Iran to maintain its nuclear weapons? The Russians should realize that their continued differences with the Iranians were historical. They should not forget that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad openly attacked Putin in one of his speeches accusing him of plotting to take over the Caspian Sea.
Ahmadinejad also reminded Putin of the Russian attacks against his country during the time of Tsar Nicholas in the 19th century and again the attacks of the Bolsheviks against Iran to deprive it of its rights in the Caspian Sea. Because of the Russians, Iran has the least minimum rights of all the countries overlooking the sea. A more complicated conflict might erupt between Russia and Iran over the oil resources and fishing.
Because of all this we are unable to understand Russia’s policy, which is supporting a weak and collapsing regime. Can anyone give us a map that will enable us to enter into the Russian mind?