Iran and Saudi Arabia do not currently have diplomatic relations, but they often exchange heated rhetoric on the world’s state.
Iran blames Saudi for directly organising the ISIS terrorist attack on Tehran which took place in June of this year, while Saudi and its allies has broken off relations with Qatar after Qatar’s Emir allegedly made positive remarks about Iran.
Now though, Russia which is enjoying historically good relations with Iran and increasingly close relations with Saudi Arabia, has offered to broker a de-escalation agreement between the Tehran and Riyadh.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov has made the following statement about mediation efforts between Iran and Saudi,
“We tried several times and offered (to help Iran and Saudi Arabia sit down at the negotiating table), but we do not impose our intermediary role.
Many problems would have been much easier to resolve had there been mutual understanding and trust between Tehran and Riyadh.
These proposals remain on the table both with our Saudi and Iranian partners”.
While some saw Russia’s warm welcome of the Saudi King Salman to Moscow as a betrayal of the Russo-Iranian partnership, I wrote the following about the implications of the Saudi visit to Russia, in respect of Iran:
“Russia is all too aware of how mutual business interests and long-term respectful diplomatic communication can help reduce tensions between regional rivals to mere rhetoric. Turkey’s newfound defence of Syrian and Iraqi territorial integrity, has been as much because of Turkey’s economic reliance on Russia as it is because of Kurdish nationalism in the region. While Kurdish nationalism has angered Turkey, Russia’s partnership has assured Turkey that a balance of power will ultimately be maintained in the Middle East by the Russian geo-political superpower that Ankara has come to both trust and respect. In this sense, Russia’s stabilising hand offers most Middle East actors, a kind of unspoken but equally unambiguous insurance policy.
The Russian geo-political ‘insurance policy’ has also helped to bring Turkey and Iran closer together. Again, while Kurdish nationalism and Israeli aggression has mutually infuriated Ankara and Tehran, it was first and foremost, Russia’s friendship with both powers that allowed Iran and Turkey to develop a newfound sense of trust and mutually beneficial economic relations.
Turning to the dispute between Riyadh and Doha, Russia’s genuinely neutral stance on the row between Qatar on the one hand and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt on the other, has earned Russia genuine respect on all sides of this conflict.
And then one has to necessarily turn to the Saudi/Iranian conflict. MBS is considered one of the more anti-Iranian figures in a Saudi state that is de-facto anti-Iran. While some ideologically motivated commentators think that the Saudi monarch’s visit to Moscow is a betrayal of the Moscow-Tehran partnership, this is no more the case than Russia’s increasingly good relations with Turkey has been a threat to Russia’s Syrian partner.
The slow-moving but increasingly obvious outcome of good Russian relations with Turkey has meant that Turkey is now playing a less destructive and detracting role in Syria. While Damascus and Ankara still do not have official diplomatic channels, the fact that Damascus welcomed the Turkish policed de-escalation zone in Syria’s Idlib Governorate, is a sign of a small yet significant rapprochement, albeit via a third party.
Likewise, if both Iran and Saudi become increasingly intertwined in an economic partnership with Russia and also China, there will be less of a chance that Saudi would ever make good on its threats against Iran. Even now, the threats against Iran are mostly rhetorical as Saudi simply does not have the ability to even attempt to win a war against Iran’s superior armed forces.
In this sense, Russia is helping create stability in the Middle East by making previous and current rival nations into countries that each have an economic interest in a common partner. That partner is Russia which increasingly also means China, by extrapolation, as well as overriding realities of Chinese investment in the Middle East. There is only one nation that is one good to very good terms with nations as diverse as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, Qatar, Palestine, Israel and in many ways, event the notoriously difficult Lebanon. This country is Russia.
Just as Nawaz Sharif’s ouster from the Premiership in Islamabad has not negatively impacted Pakistan’s close economic and geo-political relations with China, so too would any would-be palace coup in Saudi, or any other Persian Gulf monarchy, not effect relations with Russia as much as some would hope or in other cases, fear. There is only so much that any ideological state can do to resist pragmatism. This far, Russia has quietly made sure that in all such states, pragmatic thinking beats out ideological rhetoric. Saudi Arabia is no exception, it in fact, proves the rule”
In making a public offer to mediate in the disputes between Iran and Saudi, Russia has unambiguously clarified its position in the region. Russia does not seek to unevenly bestow grace and favour upon any one, nor any group of nations. While it is obvious which countries in the Middle East are Russia’s traditional allies, recently acquired geo-political partners and possible future economic partners, Russia nevertheless seeks balance over discord and overall, Moscow seeks to de-escalate all points of tension in the region, rather than play one side against another.
In this sense, Russia as acting to geo-politically pacify contentious areas in the Middle East, thus making the key region a safer place for China’s One Belt–One Road, which is rapidly on its way to the Middle East.
Russia is using diplomatic initiatives in order to make the de-facto argument that economic cooperation will make for a safer and more prosperous Middle East than one which allows political divides to be violently exploited by foreign actors like the United States.
The Saudi Foreign Minster spoke in Moscow, of Russia sharing a neighbouring region with the Middle East. This is a clear sign that even a traditional US ally is coming to terms with the fact that the Middle East is geographically and historically, far closer to the Russian world than to the western hemisphere.
This geographical reality seems to be rapidly corresponding to new geo-strategic realities that will only be to the shared benefit of all parties willing to engage in diplomatic efforts to calm tensions.
While Saudi and Iran may not take Russia up on the offer straight away, just as is the case in respect of Russia’s tripartite economic cooperation initiative for the two Korean states, it would appear to only be a matter of time, before vague sentiments of intent, turn into real diplomatic progress for the parties involved.
In this sense, Russia is laying out a road-map for peace in some of the world’s longest running disputes. If Russia can do something similar for Israel-Palestine, the Jammu and Kashmir crisis and the Myanmar Civil War, the global map of world conflicts might be redrawn in less than a generation.
While Russia acting to smooth out long running global crisis points is a long term goal, one which is becoming increasingly realistic, what is already taking place is a kind of diplomatic encirclement of conflict zones by Russia. This has the effect of isolating such zones from the threat of US war.
It seems that from the Korean peninsula to the Middle East, everywhere Trump threats military action, Russia’s diplomats and leaders, show up first, bearing various economic incentives for peace.
In this sense, because the US has proved unable to cooperate with Russia, Russia is instead taking matters into its own hands, while attempting to bring peace to all the areas where the Trump administration has threatened more conflict and even all out war.