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16 November 2013


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Time to get all of the old Russia specialists out of retirement - the ones who played and won "the great game" against the USSR.

William R. Cumming

Is a "warm water" port still a driver for Russian FP or is it just oil politics?


It's not clear to me bringing back the old USSR hands is the best idea.

The New Russia (TM) bears the resemblance to the old USSR, but it isn't. Its leaders seem to be much more aware that it is no longer a superpower and needs deft diplomacy to advance its interests much more than the threat of force. It is not an intractable opponent of US, or indeed, anyone else. It is willing to cut deals and cooperate if it suits their interests, certainly a lot more than USSR did. I'd say this Russia bears a lot of resemblance to the Russian Empire after the Crimean War. The one man who could play that Russia well was Otto von Bismarck. I don't know if there is anyone in the West who can play a Bismarck in this day and age--or, indeed, if a Bismarck can emerge in the West (of today, at any rate.)

Alba Etie

Would Russian resurgence in the long run in the Near East & SW Asia not be a fundamental stabilizing force for the Levant ? In my inexpert opinion it would be - especially if protected Minority interest in the region .

David Habakkuk

If this account of what the Saudis have been doing is accurate, does it suggest that people with clout in Riyadh have realised that letting Bandar loose was not necessarily the brightest of ideas? Or perhaps that he himself has, as it were, sobered up a little?

David Habakkuk

On Saudi policy, an interesting account appeared in this morning’s Sunday Times, suggesting that the country may be willing to cooperate in an Israeli attack on Iran. The full text is behind a paywall, but the opening paragraphs are available:

‘ONCE they were sworn enemies. Now Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency is working with Saudi officials on contingency plans for a possible attack on Iran if its nuclear programme is not significantly curbed in a deal that could be signed in Geneva this week.

‘Both the Israeli and Saudi governments are convinced that the international talks to place limits on Tehran’s military nuclear development amount to appeasement and will do little to slow its development of a nuclear warhead.

‘As part of the growing co-operation, Riyadh is understood already to have given the go-ahead for Israeli planes to use its airspace in the event of an attack on Iran.’

(See http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/world_news/Middle_East/article1341561.ece?CMP=OTH-gnws-standard-2013_11_16 )

The report was picked up in the ‘Times of Israel’, among other places.

(See http://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-said-to-be-working-with-saudi-arabia-on-iran-strike-plan/ )

Obviously, it would be unwise in the extreme to assume that the 'Sunday Times' report is accurate. The Murdoch papers have a history of being used for disinformation, not least from Mossad. And one can see how this kind of disinformation, at this point, might make sense as a means of trying to influencing the upcoming talks on Iran's nuclear programme.

However, it seems to me interesting to ponder whether there is any inherent tension between this report, and the suggestions of some kind of Saudi-Russian cooperation contained in this fascinating report by ‘Harper’.

The beaver

I saw this in the Globe & Mail yesterday:

It's about the billionnaire nephew of the current king of KSA:
[quote]“It is a pivot moment for any oil-producing country that has not diversified,” he says. “Ninety-two per cent of Saudi Arabia’s annual budget comes from oil. Definitely it is a worry and a concern.”

Does Saudi Arabia get it?

“I will make them get it; there is no doubt about that. I’ll make them get it. It is matter of survival. There is no choice but to get it. I will keep pushing until they do.

“The majority of Saudi Arabians get it. We will mobilize the media; mobilize the people to put maximum pressure on the government to do things to rectify the problem.”[/end of quote]

This is an example of the dividing line between the younger crowd of the 3000+ princes and princesses versus the sons or sons of sons (like Bandar) in line for the throne. It seems that even the gent feminine, those who were/are lucky to go west for their university studies are quietly trying to change the views of the old guards

Charles I

I'm not going to look for cites but do recall seeing the agreement of Saudi air space noted in the press - or maybe it was here, many, many months ago during a previous rev up in, er, urgency.


A surprisingly optimist post by Harper.


"Rome, Italy, Nov 11, 2013 / 03:48 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Nov. 25 at the Vatican, according to the director of the Holy See’s Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi...

The first meeting between Pope Francis and the Russian president comes after the Holy Father sent Putin a letter on Sept. 5, at the opening of the G-20 summit, calling on the group’s leaders to set aside the “useless” search for a military solution to the conflict in Syria and to pursue a peaceful resolution through dialogue and negotiation."


I suppose this is about the enemy of my enemy is my friend. I wonder when the House of Saud will experience blowback for all their covert & overt interventions around the world that have caused so much grief to innocent bystanders.

On another thread you raised a very important question regarding the loyalty of Jews. It would truly be tragic to the many contributions Jews have made to their native lands, some of which you noted, if in many countries in the west, the people conclude that the loyalty of the Jews is to Israel and consequently their views & actions become suspect.

The many Israeli technology entrepreneurs that I have invested in the past have emigrated, as they no longer feel they "belong" there. That to me says how far Israeli society has evolved.

Babak Makkinejad


The Cold War against Iran will continue; there is no strategic re-assessment as far as I can tell.


should I have called it cynical not optimist?


"The Obama administration last month suspended some military aid to Egypt, including US$260 million in cash and deliveries of F-16 fighter jets, helicopters and tanks in an effort to prod the North African country toward democracy. Egypt’s army ousted President Mohamed Mursi in July, leading to clashes between security forces and Mursi’s supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood that have left more than 1,000 people dead. ...

Egyptian officials are seeking financing from an unidentified Persian Gulf country to buy as much as US$4 billion of Russian arms, Palestinian newspaper Dunia al-Watan reported Nov. 6, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have pledged at least US$12 billion to Egypt’s new government."

With William R. Polk's Understanding Syria in mind, what could an agreement between Sad(d)ad regime and the insurance look like?

Charles I

Let us recall this has been going on domestically with the already well penetrated Russian Orthodox Church since Putin's accession.

William R. Cumming

Probably should have mentioned that even today Russia is the Russian Federation with 82 components. Few in the USA FP can name even 1/2 of the 82! See Wikipedia!


I reply to several thoughtful comments. First, I agree that a Bismark in the West would be a most desirable partner to work with Russia to stabilize some of the hot spots that could trigger a larger war. Clearly Obama is no Bismark, but General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, while not an elected politician, has played a crucial role in boosting US-Russian and US-Chinese cooperation on some of these crisis spots. He famously said that he is committed to the idea that the US and China can avoid the "Thucydides Trap" of inevitable conflict between contending rising and declining powers. Bravo to him! I call your attention to a fascinating article in the first edition of a Politico magazine by Rosa Brooks, a former Pentagon official early in the Obama Administration, called "Obama versus the Generals."

As was demonstrated with the Syria chemical weapons deal, which averted a US strike on Syria and the prospect of a larger regional war or worse, the Russians can be a force for stability, which transcends their immediate interests in warm water access, arms sales, etc.

I do not believe that Bandar is in any way softening his profile, but I do believe that his time is running out as a major provocateur of regional conflict. The opening of direct dialogue between Putin and King Abdullah, following Bandar's own bungled visit to Moscow a month or so back, is one indication. A Daily Beast profile of "Bandar Gatsby" by Christopher Dickey paints a picture of Bandar falling from grace after failure after failure in Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere. Worth reading.


I highly doubt Saudis are that dumb to let Israelis use their airspace to invade Iran, then again I can be wrong. The consequence of such Saudi action would certainly be a catastrophic regional war.

different clue

I wonder if this was released by someone on the inside in order to generate counterpressure against the governments of I and KSA to drop that plan.

Norbert M Salamon

There was another story, that President Putin has called King Abdullah, and there is some change in the policy of some "rebels" in Syria.


Insurance???? How did that get there, the rebel forces. I guess I was heading towards insurrection.


" there is no strategic re-assessment as far as I can tell."

Is it possible that the JCS, IC et al were blindsided by the inevitable re-orienting of Iraq towards their co-religionists in Qom? It seems impossible to me that this outcome was not a fait accompli with the removal of SH, and in my view, is the very definition of strategic re-assessment, par excellence....




Believe it. We are idiots. pl



Since 2006 I have visited SST and grown to respect your superior experience and knowledge on the Pax Americana and will 99% of time defer to your position....forgive me, however, for this is a premise I cannot rationally digest. I understood the 2003 WMD/democracy arguments as strange canards, for the masses. But given what has unfolded since, and now continues to play out throughout the ME, and more recently in Geneva, everything is connected, and I see the whole thing, one long chain of events that stretch all the way back to 2001 as strategic re-assessment.


There is definitely a growing gap between the younger generation of Saudi Royals and the ruling inner circle. I applaud the fact that there are well over 100,000 Saudis studying in the United States at universities and military training academies. The KSA is footing all the bills and there are some people in the US who see this as an opportunity to help shape a gradual change in the Kingdom. In the interim, there will be a large number of pot holes in the road ahead. I caution that the primary source on the Saudi-Israeli military compact is Rupert Murdoch's Sunday Times of London. So the words of caution regarding such a hard Israel-Saudi military alliance are well taken.


Harper, thanks for the post!

I've said it before and will keep saying it but it appears that Russia has taken up the role of tending the flame of Christianity and is the opposing force to the hedonistic "if it feels good do it" cancer that has infected the West.

Who could have seen that coming?

David Habakkuk


There is a remark attributed to Mark Twain, apparently wrongly, which seems apposite: ‘Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.’

As regards both the American and British advocates of war with Iraq, the verdict is really in: they were imbeciles who really meant it.

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