After the unexpected June 2015 meeting between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Saudi Defense Minister and King’s son, Prince Mohammed Salman, I had suggested an historic geopolitical shift of the key Arab Gulf state oil producers away from Washington and towards a new working relationship with Russia might be underway. Three major events not evident in June appeared to have ended the nascent cooperation between the two Cold War foes. Then reality and pragmatism appear to have set the improving relation between two of the world’s largest oil producers back on track in the past days.
This past June, on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, a surprise meeting was held between Russia’s President Putin and Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman, son of the new Saudi King. Some ten billion dollars of deals including rumored Saudi purchase of advanced Russian weapons and nuclear power plants were discussed. Prince Salman’s Russian trip was followed in August by the visit of Egyptian President and close Saudi ally, Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi. Al-Sisi was followed by a Moscow visit to meet Putin by the Crown Prince and Deputy Defense Minister of Abu Dhabi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
The Saudis and allied Arab states were increasingly furious with Washington Mideast policy and with the US shale oil boom that was damaging the Kingdom’s lead role in setting world oil prices. The Obama Administration seemed to care less about Washington’s Mideast partner that had been a key ally since 1945 when King Ibn Saud in a fateful meeting with President Roosevelt granted the Rockefeller US oil majors exclusive drilling rights in the Kingdom.
Wrath of Allah?
By late August it appeared that a global geopolitical tectonic shift of the Sunni Arab Middle East oil states away from Washington and towards Russia was underway.
Then two dramatic events took place inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a Kingdom which is also guardian of Mecca and Medina, the two most holy sites in the Islamic world.
The first was the September 11 (sic) collapse of a giant construction crane atop the Grand Mosque in Mecca killing 100 people. Notably, the crane was from the Binladen Construction Group. In an extraordinary action, the Saudi government immediately imposed a travel ban on the senior members of that group pending investigation into their culpability.
The Binladen Group is not only the prime construction company for the Saudi Monarchy. The family is intimate with the US Bush family. Members of the Binladen family were in Washington on September 11 (sic), 2001 and were swiftly and discreetly flown out of the country despite closed US airspace after the World Trade towers and Pentagon were hit. The family is also the family of the infamous CIA-trained Osama bin Laden. It’s a small world.
Then less than two weeks later on September 24, the worst crowd panic in a quarter century mysteriously erupted during the Saudi Hajj annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, where millions of faithful Muslims from the world over had gathered. More than 700 people, perhaps by some accounts as many as 1,400 were crushed to death in the ensuing panic. It would take little to incite such a panic among the densely packed crowd of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. A few well-placed professional agents yelling “fire” would do the job.
The coincidence of the two events–the Binladen crane falling on the Grand Mosque in Mecca on September 11, and the panic that caused the death of hundreds of pilgrims, days later during the Holy Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca is too timely to be mere accident. Are we supposed to believe this was the “wrath of Allah”? Someone seemed very interested in delivering a sharp warning to the Saudi Monarchy about their recent foreign policy shift towards Moscow and away from Washington in the run-up to the increasingly obvious Russian military buildup at Latakia in Syria. Of this I’m certain.
‘Jihad’ against Russia
The warning seemed to be working. On October 1, after the first day of Russian precision bombing strikes in Syria destroying ISIS and other terrorist infrastructure, the Saudi UN Ambassador demanded Russia immediately cease strikes on non-ISIS targets in Syria.
Then after the first week of intense and highly effective Russian bombing of terrorist sites, including ISIS and Al Qaeda in Syria, fifty-five Saudi Arabian clerics and academicians, including some prominent Islamists, signed a joint statement urging “true Muslims” to “give all moral, material, political and military” support to the fight against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s army as well as Iranian and Russian forces. The call declared, “The holy warriors of Syria are defending the whole Islamic nation. Trust them and support them…because if they are defeated, God forbid, it will be the turn of one Sunni country after another.”
The declaration called Russia’s involvement an “Orthodox crusade” a reference to the Great Crusades of the Roman Church against Orthodox Christian Byzantium after 1095 and then against Islam. In effect the Saudi clerics called for a “reverse crusade” of Islam against Orthodox Russia. It began to look like any rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Russia was lost in the sands of the Arabian desert.
A new Saudi approach
The call for Jihad however was not at all official Saudi sanctioned Jihad, but that of “opposition” clerics. And more significant, the political relations between Moscow and the government in Riyadh, which is separate from the clerics, has recently taken a strong turn for the positive.
On October 11 in Sochi, Saudi Defense Minister Prince bin Salman met Vladimir Putin for the second time in less than four months. According to a statement after the talks by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the two parties agreed to cooperate in Syria to prevent the formation of a “terrorist caliphate.”
That, if it continues to develop, is a major positive step towards peace in the region as Saudi money had been financing numerous terrorist groups in a desperate effort to topple the Assad regime during the monarchy of King Abdullah and Prince Bandar, his intelligence chief responsible for the war against Assad. Bandar was abruptly fired by the new King in January, signaling a new strategy was afoot in Riyadh. The October 11 Sochi meeting underscored that. Despite events in Mecca and pressures from Washington, the Saudi Monarchy has decided to continue its Russian rapprochement even in backing the Russian military strikes in Syria. This is huge.
World Oil Rapprochement
Further indication that a global tectonic shift away from Washington was underway came just three days after Prince Salman’s Sochi talks with Putin. Alexander Novak, Russian Energy Minister, announced that Russia is planning to meet with Saudi Arabian counterparts, as well as Iranian, in November. They will discuss the current oil market. Novak stated, “The meeting with Saudi Arabia, as well as with the Iranians will be held in November.” He added that the Russian Energy Ministry has also been invited to take part in an experts meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) on October 21.
The Saudi and Arab OPEC rapprochement with Russia, and potentially with Iran, would open the door for the Gulf Arab states to participate in the greatest global infrastructure in history, China’s One Belt, One Road port and rail Eurasian infrastructure development, where Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union states are being fully integrated. That would be far more positive than stirring up thousands of crazed terrorists who will certainly come to threaten the Saudi and other Gulf monarchies if not defeated in Syria and Iraq.
On the 22 September, New Eastern Outlook online journal published an analysis of mine where I stated, “Washington has now lost the Middle East.” That was days before the world took note of the Russian military buildup in Latakia, Syria and before she began a real war on terror there. Now that prediction is looking far more likely than ever before.
A Russia-Saudi-Iran consensus on oil production worldwide would rob Washington of one of their most potent geopolitical weapons. As then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger reportedly stated during the 1970’s oil price shocks, “If you control oil, you control entire nations and groups of nations.” Now Washington’s oily geopolitical chickens are coming home to roost with a vengeance.
F. William Engdahl is strategic risk consultant and lecturer, he holds a degree in politics from Princeton University and is a best-selling author on oil and geopolitics, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.