“Compare the price lists of Moscow, Washington, Paris and London and you will understand everything,” said the Saudi King Abdullah when asked why he had opted to purchase Russian helicopters and tanks to renovate the Saudi fleets.
Reporting this, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Gulf sources reveal that Moscow netted the huge Saudi transaction, concluded in mid-September, by offering to sell the oil kingdom hardware at a loss for the sake of a military foothold in Arabia. Its prices were 40-55 percent below the offers submitted to Abdullah by the Americans, British and French.
The Saudi monarch’s comment pertained to the price.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources note more profound considerations behind the dramatic Saudi shift.
The huge Russian arms purchase has major strategic ramifications.
It will bring in Russia’s military industry and Air Force to replace the Western helicopter fleet with Russian products; Russian tanks will start racing across Saudi sands; hundreds of Russian officers, technicians and army instructors will arrive in force for the first time and for long stretches of time.
In other words, the world’s biggest oil power, whose external relations have traditionally hinged on its political and military ties with the United States, will host a second major foreign military presence.
This is a feather in the cap for Russian president Vladimir Putin and a setback for US President George W. Bush. The transaction has put paid to the hopes of Britain, which welcomed the Saudi King this week as its biggest trading partner, and France. Both European governments took it for granted that the Saudi market was as wide open to their arms sales as it has been in the last 20-30 years.
Abdullah plans transfer of Iran’s uranium enrichment to Saudi Arabia
After the UK, the Saudi monarch goes on next week to visit three countries, Italy, Turkey and Germany, all of which have bones to pick with the Bush administration on Iraq, Iran and the Israel-Palestinian dispute. The news of his big arms purchase from Russia will add salt to American wounds. Abdullah’s posture towards his hosts in the three capitals will display strength and independence, and a shared inclination to cool his ties with Washington.
But Abdullah is not stopping there. DEBKA-Net-Weekly discloses he has come up with a grandiose plan for solving the US-Iranian dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program.
Borrowing an idea from Moscow, the monarch proposes the transfer of Iran’s uranium enrichment production to Saudi Arabia under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA.
The Saudi ruler believes the Iranians spurned the Russian offer when it was put before them, the US and Europe, assuming that Moscow would ultimately toe Washington’s line. He counts on Tehran being more amenable to the Saudi offer in view of Abdullah’s manifest independence of the United States – witness his decision to make Russia his main arms supplier.
Riyadh’s arms shopping list in Moscow includes 150 Mi-35 Hind and Mi-17 Hip helicopters for $2.2 billion, T-90 main battle tanks and medium-range air-defense systems. France had counted on filling both bills.
In recent months, the king took direct charge of Saudi arms purchases, previously handled by the defense minister, his half-brother Crown Prince Sultan. He also decided to shun French arms because he disapproves of the new French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s Middle East stance, which he regards as over-friendly to Israel.
But most of all, the Saudi ruler frowns on French dabbling in Lebanon in concert with the United States. He sees French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner and Middle East envoy Jean-Claude Cousseran dashing up and down the Middle East, including Tehran, ignoring Saudi wishes in Lebanon and, above all, with no consideration for the kingdom’s multibillion dollar investments there.
Abdullah’s arms deal with Moscow reflects his disapproval of Washington’s policies in Iraq, the Middle East dispute and Lebanon, his defiance of American dominance in the region and his flat opposition to any American military action against Iran.