By last fall the protests against the government of Syria had long since turned into a horrendous bloodletting in the streets as security forces and the army continued to battle anti-government forces. Saudi Arabia had for months been a leading actor in efforts to end the turmoil. King Abdullah recalled the Saudi Ambassador from Damascus in August saying:
“What is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia.. …The events are grave and cannot be justified, and this has resulted in the loss of large numbers of lives and left many injured. This cannot be contemplated by any sane Muslim, Arab or other human being… …Syria knows the Kingdom’s stand with it in the past. Today, the Kingdom demands a stop to the killing machine, and the shedding of blood, and a rational approach to bring the situation under control. Before it is too late, Syria must launch reforms that are not mere promises but actually realized, so our brothers in Syria can feel it and live it with … dignity … and pride …”
In October as the violence showed no sign of letting up a draft resolution brought before the United Nations Security Council by the European Union threatened sanctions on the Syrian government if it failed to stop the crackdown. On October 4th the draft failed when the Russian Federation and China vetoed the resolution. The resolution called for “an immediate end to violence and urged all sides to reject extremism, expressing “profound regret at the deaths of thousands of people including women and children,” according to a UN’s press release. It added, “The resolution would have demanded that Syrian authorities immediately stop using force against civilians and allow the exercise of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and other fundamental rights. It would have called for the release of all political prisoners and peaceful demonstrators.”
Four months later Russia and China repeated the use of their Security Council veto power to defeat an Arab League sponsored resolution that sought to rein in the Syrian government’s brutal repression. Their action was condemned by others in the Security Council including British Foreign Secretary William Hague who called it “a betrayal of the Syrian people.” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton labeled the vetoes “a travesty.” The February 4th draft would have forced Assad to stand down and hand over power to a deputy, pull back troops engaged against civilians and start a transitional process leading to a democratic system.
Three days after the Russian and Chinese vetoes defeated the Security Council Resolution Saudi Arabia and other Gulf leaders recalled their ambassadors from Damascus and expelled Syrian diplomats. It was followed by volleys of accusations especially between Riyadh and Moscow over the Syrian morass. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal asked an Arab League meeting on the crisis, “”How long will we stay as onlookers to what is happening to the brotherly Syrian people, and how much longer will we grant the Syrian regime one period after another so it can commit more massacres against its people?”
At the April 1st Istanbul meeting of the “Friends of Syria” contact group, he reiterated his claim that Russia was responsible for the continuing bloodshed in Syria:
“The position of those countries which thwarted the U.N. Security Council resolution and voted against the resolution of the General Assembly gave the Syrian regime a license to extend its brutal practices against the Syrian people.”
Relations between Saudi Arabia and Russia weren’t always marked by such vitriol. The two countries did not have diplomatic relations between 1938 until 1990 but a rapprochement was underway after the demise of the Soviet Union. The thaw was complete by 2003 when King Abdullah, then Crown Prince, made a landmark visit to Moscow to talk about the opening of new high level contacts. By 2007 the relationship had grown much more cordial and cooperative when President Vladimir Putin arrived in Riyadh for the first visit of a Russian leader to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Dr. Marat Terterov of the Gulf Research Center wrote at the time:
“Russia’s Middle Eastern strategy appears to be going from strength to strength. While the US continues to be embroiled in the Iraqi insurgency, and the West’s standoff with Tehran over its alleged nuclear weapons program fuels tension across the Gulf, 2007 may go down as a landmark year for Moscow’s foreign policy making toward the region. Russian President Putin’s tour of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan in February 2007 — the first such visit by a Russian or Soviet head of state — has already set the stage for Moscow to strongly consolidate on its already vastly improving relations with the Gulf states.”
So what should we make of the current state of relations between Moscow and Riyadh?
SUSRIS talked with Dr. Theodore Karasik last summer to get his take on the impact of the Arab Spring on the Gulf. It has been a phenomenon he preferred to label as “Arab revolts,” and of which he said, “The way I look at it is that all of these revolts had similar origins. They were about acting against dictatorships. About the inability for upward mobility. About education. About freedom of speech. And so on.” Now that last year’s turmoil in the Arab world has apparently claimed positive relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia as a casualty we wanted to get his perspective on these developments.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is Director for Research and Development at the Institute for Near East & Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA), based in the Dubai Media City. He joined INEGMA in 2008 after more than twenty years with RAND Corporation to head up the think-tank’s newly established research and consultancy division. INEGMA, founded in 2001, also has a division that focuses on high-level events and conferences and one that concentrates on public relations and marketing in the security and defense arena. This latter Division produces the only Arabic language security and military website, sdarabia.com. Karasik received his PhD at UCLA in History concentrating on the Middle East, Russia, the Caucasus and an outside field in cultural anthropology in tribes and clans, all of which provides him with a “North-South approach” to strategic thinking about the MENA region. Dr. Karasik is currently engaged on many research fronts including the Syria-Russia-Iran issue as well as countering Somali piracy and the development of the Counter-Extremism Center to be based in Abu Dhabi beginning in October. Dr. Karasik was interviewed by phone from his office in Dubai and via email.
The Moscow-Riyadh War of Words: A Conversation with Dr. Theodore Karasik
[SUSRIS] What’s going on in the Saudi-Russian relationship?
Dr. Theodore Karasik is currently the Director of Research and Development at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE and Beirut, Lebanon.
Dr. Karasik is also an Adjunct Lecturer at the Dubai School of Government where he teaches graduate level international relations. Karasik was a Senior Political Scientist in the International Policy and Security Group at RAND Corporation. From 2002-2003, he served as Director of Research for the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy. He has worked on Central Asian, Russian, Caucasian and Arabian Peninsula issues for over 20 years regarding nuclear proliferation, security and terrorism questions including transnational terrorist groups, clan structures and politics, and criminal organizations. He writes numerous risk assessments across his geographical focus. Since 9/11, Dr. Karasik has also concentrated on terrorist targeting and tactics regarding critical infrastructure in the United States, Europe, and the GCC states. Finally, he is a dedicated “Saudiologist” who tracks and analyzes all issues related to internal and external Saudi affairs since the early 1990s.
Dr. Karasik’s key RAND publications released to the public are “Saudi-Iranian Relations Since the Fall of Saddam: Rivalry, Cooperation, and Implications for U.S. Policy (2009 co-author); “Future U.S. Security Relationships with Iraq and Afghanistan: U.S. Air Force Roles (2008 co-author); “Ungoverned Territories: Understanding and Reducing Terrorism Risks (2007 co-author), “Beyond al-Qaeda: The Global Jihadist Movement” (2006 co-author), “Beyond al-Qaeda: The Outer Rings of the Terrorist Universe,” (2006 co-author), “War and Escalation in South Asia,” (2006, co-author), “Economic Dimensions of Security in Central Asia,” (2006; co-author), “The Muslim World After 9/11” (2004; co-author) and “Toxic Warfare” (2002). His other publications include “Islamic Finance in a Global Context: Opportunities and Challenges,” Chicago Journal of International Law, vol. 7, no. 2, Winter 2007 (co-authored) and “Chechnya: A Glimpse of Future Conflict?,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, July-September 1999 (co-authored).
Dr. Karasik is a military analyst on al-Jazeera International and is frequently interviewed by The National, Reuters, Trends News Agency, and AFP. He has a background in basic geology and petroleum geology directly related to his previous work on the Caspian and Arabian Gulf regions. Dr. Karasik served as a Subject Matter Expert on Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia for the U.S. Library of Congress. He also served as a Committee Member on IREX’s Contemporary Issues Fellowship Program for Azerbaijani applicants. Dr. Karasik worked for 18 months with internists in Santa Monica, CA to develop a software package to track human systems and pharmaceutical use. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California, Los Angeles in four fields: Russia, Middle East, Caucasus and an outside field in cultural anthropology focusing on tribes and clans from Central Asia to East Africa. He wrote his dissertation on military and humanitarian operations in the northern port city of Arkhangel’sk and their impact on political institutions during the Russian civil war.
INEGMA is best described as a commercial hybrid organization that complements the attributes of a research house with that of a corporate management consultancy, operating exclusively within the defense and security domains.
At the core of INEGMA’s activities is the research aspect – it is this intellectual capital that is the foundation for its Strategy and Risk Management Consultancy and also the basis for its wider activities. We possess a strong research network that brings former government and military officials together with high-caliber security expertise from around the world. As a result INEGMA has been delivering high-class open source intelligence on key developments impacting the wider Middle East region since 2001. These insights have come in the form of risk reports and editorials, television and newspaper interviews, and information exchange forums such as specialized conferences and seminars.
INEGMA’s relations with the public and private spheres of defense and security are simultaneously expanding and strengthening. This is a result of both constant interactions and partnering activities and because many of its staff have previously spent many years either in government or in the defense industry. These special relationships continue to provide INEGMA with an extraordinary window into strategic trend-lines of regional governments and militaries. They also give us the ability to follow market trends closely with defense and security vendors operating in the region.
Building on its strong public-private sector network and intellectual capital, today INEGMA is recognized as a leading organizer of high-level defense and security events across the breadth of the Middle East, and an increasingly active management consultancy advising government and private sector clients in the areas of Strategy and Risk Management, and PR and Marketing. INEGMA is a non-partisan organization. It receives no financial assistance from any government or political party, worldwide.
- US keeps eye on Syria, ties in Gulf – Asia Times – Apr 4, 2012
- Rising Tensions between Saudi Arabia, Russia on Backdrop of Syrian Crisis – H. Varulkar – MEMRI – Apr 4, 2012
- Russian veto fueled Syria carnage: Saudi Arabia – Arab News – Apr 2, 2012
- Russia Lavrov: Annan’s plan should be judged by UN – Arab News – Apr 2, 2012
- KSA, US plan unified Syria strategy – Arab News – Mar 30, 2012
- US, Saudi, GCC Leaders to Talk on Iran, Syria Crises – SUSRIS – Mar 29, 2012
- Medvedev: Annan’s mission is Syria’s last chance – Arab News – Mar 28, 2012
- Prince Saud meets Medvedev – Arab News – Mar 25, 2012
- GCC deplores comments by Russian envoy – Arab News – Mar 25, 2012
- Russia nudges Syria to move on – Asia Times – Mar 23, 2012
- Mullah Lavrov! – Arab News – Tariq Alhomayed – Mar 22, 2012
- Why Does Russia Support the Assad Regime? – Middle East Institute Symposium (Video) – Mar 15, 2012
- Saudi to Russia: U.N. veto on Syria allowed violence to continue – DailyStar – Mar 10, 2012
- Syria Crisis: U.S. Proposes New Security Council Resolution – AP – Mar 6, 2012
- Syria Conflict, Bosnia War Parallels Grow From Intervention – Reuters – Feb 19, 2012
- Syria Crisis: UN General Assembly Resolution Approved Backing Arab Plan Calling For Assad To Step Down – AP – Feb 16, 2012
- Gulf states recalling ambassadors in Syria – Arab News – Feb 7, 2012
- Following Russian-Chinese Veto in Security Council, Increasing Calls in Arab World to Boycott Russian, Chinese Goods – Y. Yehoshua – MEMRI – Feb 7, 2012
- Russia aims to keep Syria options open after UN veto – BBC – Feb 6, 2012
- Russia, China Veto Of Syria UN Resolution Sparks Outrage – Reuters – Feb 5, 2012
- Hillary Clinton: UN Syria Resolution Veto A ‘Travesty’ – Reuters – Feb 5, 2012
- Syria UN Resolution: Russia, China Veto UN Resolution – Reuters – Feb 4, 2012
- UNSC Draft S/2012/77 – UN – Feb 4, 2012
- Draft Resolution to UN Calls for Syria Assad to Step Down – Guardian (w/Video) – Jan 31, 2012
- Russia, China Veto Syria Sanctions – AP – Oct 5, 2011Security Council Fails to Adopt Draft Resolution Condemning Syria’s Crackdown on Anti-Government Protestors, Owing to Veto by Russian Federation, China – UN.org – Oct 4, 2011
- The “Arab Spring” Through the Lens of a Gulf Think Tank: A Conversation with Dr. Theodore Karasik – SUSRIS – Aug 1, 2011
- Russia Warns Against Arming Syrian Rebels – ibtimes – Apr 4, 2011
- Nor do we want a “Sheikh” Lavrov Tariq Alhomayed – Arab News – Apr 7, 2011
- What price Russian position? – Arab News – Mar 23, 2011
- Crown Prince Sultan in Moscow – SUSRIS – Nov 24, 2007
- A New Era for GCC-Russia Relations – SUSRIS – Nov 24, 2007
- Russian President Putin’s Historic Visit Boosts Moscow-Riyadh Ties – SUSRIS – Feb 12, 2007
- Russia-Gulf camaraderie – Abdulaziz Sager – Khaleej Times – Feb 11, 2007