Saudi Arabia is curtailing the supply of arms to the Syrian opposition and advising "fighters against the Assad regime" to take part in the January congress in Sochi organized by Russia. The American edition of Foreign Policy blames the White House for the incident, which lost to Moscow a diplomatic battle for Syria. Is there such a significant change in the policy of Riyadh and what does it mean for the Syrian conflict?
The Russian settlement plan in Syria is beginning to lean not only in the UN, but also in the leadership of Saudi Arabia, a country that is traditionally considered one of the sponsors of oppositional groups of varying degrees of radicalism. A change in the position of the Saudis is written by the authoritative American edition of Foreign Policy in an article with the characteristic title "Dancing under the Russian tune in Syria."
In support of its version, Foreign Policy refers to the meeting of the head of the Saudi Foreign Ministry, Adel Al-Jubair, held at the end of 2017 with the leaders of the Syrian opposition fighting against Bashar Assad. The minister informed that Riyadh would stop providing military support to the opposition. Moreover, he advised the rebels "to concentrate their efforts on concluding political agreements with Damascus at the Congress of the Syrian National Dialogue", which will be held in January in Sochi.
Note that the information on the contents of this December meeting surfaced only now and according to sources in the Syrian opposition.
According to Foreign Policy, a break in the line of conduct of the Saudis indicates that Moscow has obtained a diplomatic advantage. And not least because of the passivity of the United States in the Syrian issue. The publication did not fail to "insert the hairpin" of the Trump administration because, after being carried away by the struggle simultaneously with the IG * and with the Iranian presence in Syria, the White House overlooked the process of determining the political future of Damascus. We should add that earlier a high-ranking representative of the Syrian opposition stated that although Washington continues to state the necessity of Bashar Assad's resignation, the US, like other countries, "surrendered to the Russian vision" of the settlement in Syria.
To a similar conclusion comes and Foreign Policy. The Russian peace plan begins to compete with the official process in Geneva, which has been going on for five years, under the auspices of the United Nations and with the support of the West.
The UN is currently thinking about participating in the Russian settlement plan, the American publication concludes. Foreign Policy specifies: the special envoy of the UN Secretary General for Syria Staffan de Mistura wants to take a seat at the negotiating table in Sochi without undue publicity and pushes Saudi Arabia and the Syrian opposition to participate in these consultations.
The negative reaction of Washington should not be expected
"This step should be considered a turning point for the development of the situation in Syria," Kirill Koktysh, a member of the Council of the Association of Political Experts and Consultants, an associate professor of the Department of Political Theory of MGIMO, said in a comment to the newspaper VZGLYAD. "In this case, the Syrian opposition (and the terrorists, who are present in a fair amount under the guise of the Syrian opposition) are losing one of the most significant pillars of support. Without Saudi Arabia, it is impossible to talk about the possibility of ideological legitimization of Islamist radicalism on Syrian territory, "Koktysh stressed.
"This is a significant breakthrough in the Saudi-Russian direction and evidence of convergence of the interests of countries when Saudi Arabia starts to proceed from the harmonization of its own interests with the Russian ones. The Congress in Sochi is an event, the organization of which is overseen by Russia, negotiations, at the table of which it was very hard to sit down, this required completely non-trivial efforts of Russian diplomacy. And the fact that Saudi Arabia supports them, and does not ignore, and especially does not try to torpedo is a very significant breakthrough and rapprochement, "Koktysh stressed.
"Saudi Arabia reflects the change in the balance of power in the region. This balance has been dramatically transformed over the last two years, Russia has significantly increased its weight category, and the United States has dropped it somewhere. Therefore, Saudi Arabia reacts very well to changes in coordinate systems, "the expert said.
"Of course, there will be no such enthusiasm for Washington at all," Koktysh believes. At the same time, he said, there will hardly be any sharply negative reaction: "Here you can articulate a variety of interests, but none of the players can say that the world is bad, and terrorism is good."
Experts at the same time disagree about the degree of involvement of the Saudis in the Syrian conflict at its current stage.
Riyadh is changing the object of support
"There are a lot of myths about Saudi support. Saudi Arabia has long since withdrawn from the Syrian crisis on the wave of problems in Yemen, "head of the department for studies of the Middle East conflicts of the Institute of Innovative Development Anton Mardasov told VZGLYAD.
In his opinion, for almost a year and a half the Saudis in fact do not support those factions that were patronized earlier. Financing of the opposition was conducted mainly at the expense of Qatar, Mardasov believes. The interlocutor notes: "Saudi Arabia has long expressed solidarity with the Russian point of view, simply because there is great fatigue in the region from the Syrian conflict."
Riyadh continues to help there only some factions, explained Mardasov. Thus, the Saudis "do not refuse to support the Sunni population of Syria and are now betting on the" Syrian Democratic Forces "(SDS), which are based not only on Kurds, but also on Sunni Arabs, the interlocutor said. The Saudis are ready to support territories that control the SDS, including materially, supply equipment, etc.
Anyway, Saudi Arabia continues to support the opposition forces of Damascus for pressure, Mardasov said. In any case, the dialogue to support the Saudi Arabian Sunni-Arab tribes in the east of Syria "is in Russia's favor, thus, through working with local tribes through various channels, it is possible to stabilize the situation." "But it requires a political compromise from Damascus, and with it big problems," the expert added.
He reminded that Russia also made many compromises for the Saudis: it concerns the position in Yemen, the zones of de-escalation in Syria, which, though not very stable, correspond to the vision of the Sunni-Arab world, as well as the deal with oil. "This is a mutual cooperation. But in any case, Saudi Arabia understands that Russia now has great influence in Syria, "the source said.
Disagreements with the United States against the Saudis against this background are unlikely to arise. The current US administration takes the same position. They also withdrew from the direct support of the opposition through the "operational rooms of the command", which were in Turkey, Jordan and where aid was distributed. "By the way, massive opposition assistance was stopped even under Barack Obama," Mardasov said. And since then, the US has been working with moderate opposition factions. They support the opposition SDS, see it as a springboard for influence, and the Arab tribes - as a possibility of a counterweight to the IG, which are present in Syria in the "insurgent plan," the expert concluded.
"Riyadh does not dance to the Moscow pipe"
From the point of view of the president of the Middle East Institute, Yevgeny Satanovsky, Saudi Arabia has not changed either the style of its behavior in Syria or the attitude to its "patronized" groups.
The Syrian opposition, with whom the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia al-Jubair met, is not insurgents, Satanovsky said in a comment to the newspaper VZGLYAD. "This is a common boltological team, which Riyadh is not interested in because of its lack of military capabilities and brains. They are useless for him, "he stressed.
Satanovsky is sure that after the statement of the Saudi Foreign Minister nothing in Syria will change and Riyadh will continue to provide military and financial support to terrorists. "It is noticeable in everything that happens with the base of Khemeymim. He supported the terrorists, supports and will support them until they are destroyed, or while Muhammad bin Salman, the acting heir to the throne and de facto king, walks on this ground for his two. Perhaps, if it is destroyed, as it periodically happens there, the next person, ruling Saudi Arabia, will stop the war in Yemen and Syria. But while he was at the helm, everything will continue, including anti-Russian activities, "the expert said.
"Riyadh does not dance under the Moscow pipe, as well as under all the others, with the exception of the American one. And in this regard, American newspapers and American analysts are not a source of information, which should be paid attention, "- summed Satanovskiy.
* Organization, in respect of which the court accepted an inured decision on liquidation or prohibition of the activity on the grounds provided the Federal Law "On Countering Extremist Activity"