It seems that having Iran as an ally is not enough for Russia. Russia is considering to start arming the major U.S. ally in the region – Saudi Arabia.
Military experts are now raising questions as to what this move would bring into the balance of power in the region and whether it could pose a threat to U.S. global dominance.
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However, Russia may simply want to boost its arms exports to strengthen its foreign policy in the region, some experts argue.
It was reported this week that there is a possibility of Saudi Arabia’s purchase of Russian weapons. According to reports, the decision came after the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin with Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman earlier this summer.
Such a move was interpreted in the West as a message to the U.S., which provides the Saudis with up to 40 percent of all their weapons. Another explanation of such a move could be the warming relations between Saudi Arabia and Russia, the countries that barely talked in the previous few years.
With recent done deal between Iran and Russia over the delivery of the S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile systems by the end of 2015 as well as the plans of Saudis to buy Russian arms, it seems that the Kremlin is looking to drum up support and strengthen its influence in the region.
Will Iran and Saudi Arabia fight for Russian weapons?
However, when being friends with both Iran and Saudi Arabia at the same time, Moscow must remember to balance its friendship, as Tehran and Riyadh have been the opposite of friends since the Syrian Civil War erupted.
Iran, which is Shia and is unwilling to cooperate with the West (apart from the nuclear program deal reached earlier this summer), has been supporting Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad regime, while Saudi Arabia, which is mostly Sunny, supports the Western position.
Besides, Saudi Arabia has reportedly expressed interest to buy the Iskander-E tactical ballistic missile system, which could be the Saudis’ response to Russia’s planned supply of S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile systems to Iran.
Will Russia provide its cutting-edge weapons to both Saudi Arabia and Iran, both of which have been vowing to destroy one another? Or will Russia give preference to one of the countries, and thus create a deterrent against the other country?
Russia’s military exports in the Middle East
As of today, Russian arms production accounts for about 20 percent of all manufacturing jobs in the country. In 2007, Russian defense orders stood at about $12.35 billion (in comparison – it was only $1.9 billion five years earlier).
The exporting part of the arms production industry has been a key political tool of the Kremlin’s foreign policy for a while now. In 2009, Russia took the second place after the U.S. in the financial value of contracts signed with developing countries that year at $10.4 billion (in comparison – it was only $5.4 billion a year earlier).
The Middle East, in its turn, was the biggest and most profitable market for Russia’s weapons from 2006 to 2009. In that period, the Kremlin exported 20 anti-ballistic missiles, 10 surface-to-surface missiles, 50 supersonic fighter jets, 10 helicopters, 270 tanks and over 150 armored vehicles.
In addition, Russia exported a whopping number of surface-to-air missiles – nearly 5,500 within that period – according to reports of Russian officials.
In the period between 2007 and 2011, Syria stepped up its weapons purchases by whopping 600 percent, while Russia remained a top exporter of arms to the country.
American share of arms supplies in the region, on the other hand, has somewhat decreased, while relations between the U.S. and its former regional allies have deteriorated.
Therefore, it created perfect grounds for Russia to take advantage. In particular, Russia revived its military contracts with Egypt since November 2013, right when Cairo desperately needed a replacement for U.S. weapons.
Why Obama doesn’t care about Russian delivery of S-300 systems to Iran?
Ever since Russia and Iran reached an agreement over the delivery of the S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile systems, military experts have been wondering whether it will shift the balance of power in the region.
What experts also wonder is why the U.S. President Barack Obama does not give any importance to such cooperation between two nuclear countries.
Military analysts point out that such weapons will allow Iran to modernize its aging anti-aircraft systems as well as boost their efficiency against Israeli missiles and jet fighters.
However, geopolitical role of the S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile systems must not be overrated. Such weapons cannot fully prevent possible air strikes from Israel, they can only make them more complicated for Tel Aviv to carry out.
The range of such missile systems – 150 km – means that Iran wants to secure itself from neighboring Sunni states, which is first of all Saudi Arabia. However, the missile systems will the symbol of Iran’s power in the region, rather than a guarantee of its security.
Russia’s message to the U.S.
Russia’s geopolitical status is rather unbelievable today. Although Western sanctions have been crippling the country’s economy and it seems that Moscow is isolated from the civilized world, Russia continues to show its ambitions in various regions throughout the world.
In the Arctic, Russia demands to expand its territorial waters. In Asia, Russia develops gas projects through its partnership with China. In Europe, it intimidates the neighbors by its presence in the Balkans and in Cyprus.
Russian military agreements with both Iran and Saudi Arabia will thus allow Moscow to strengthen its positions in the region. In such a way, the Kremlin lets the world know that Russia is not just Iran’s ‘lawyer’ in the nuclear program talks and Assad’s defender in the Syrian war.
Russia sends a crystal clear message to the U.S.: the gradual rapprochement of Washington and Tehran will not damage Russian interests in the region.