Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia (File photo)
Saudi Arabia has offered Russia economic incentives including a major arms deal and a pledge not to challenge Russian gas sales if Moscow scales back support for the Syrian government, Middle East sources and Western diplomats says.
The proposed deal between two of the leading power brokers in Syria’s crisis was set out by Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last week, they said on Wednesday.
Russia has supported the Syrian government with arms and diplomatic cover throughout the conflict and any change in Moscow’s stance would remove a major obstacle to action on Syria by the certain western and Arab states.
Syrian opposition sources close to Saudi Arabia said Prince Bandar offered to buy up to $15 billion of Russian weapons as well as ensuring that Persian Gulf gas would not threaten Russia’s position as a main supplier to Europe.
In return, Saudi Arabia wanted Moscow to ease its strong support of the Syrian movement and agree not to block any future UN Security Council resolution on Syria, they said.
An Arab source familiar with the matter confirmed that Prince Bandar offered to buy large quantities of arms from Russia, but that no cash amount was specified in the talks.
One Lebanese politician close to Saudi Arabia said the meeting lasted four hours. “The Saudis were elated about the outcome,” the source said.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, could not immediately be reached on Wednesday for comment about the meeting. A Saudi Foreign Ministry official was also not immediately available to respond.
Putin's initial response to Bandar's offer was inconclusive, diplomats say. One Western diplomat in the Middle East said the Russian leader was unlikely to trade Moscow's recent high profile in the region for an arms deal, however substantial.
He said Russian officials also appeared skeptical that Saudi Arabia had a clear plan for stability in Syria if the Syrian government fell.