The United States is urging its allies to avoid major defense deals with Russia, a State Department spokesman said, commenting on the signing of a military cooperation agreement between Russia and Saudi Arabia.
“We continue to urge all our partners and allies to avoid major new deals with the Russian defense sector, which we have made clear with … the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA),” the spokesman told Russian state outlet RIA.
Still, in late August Russia and Saudi Arabia’s deputy defense ministers signed a new military cooperation agreement.
it served as not just a sign of growth between the two governments, but also as a clear signal from Riyadh: it is willing to diversify its defense relationships beyond its longtime focus on the United States.
“I signed an agreement with the Russian Deputy Minister of Defense Colonel General Alexander Fomin between the Kingdom and the Russian Federation aimed at developing joint military cooperation between the two countries,” Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid Bin Salman tweeted, on the sidelines of the International Military Technical Forum (ARMY 2021) near Moscow.
I signed an agreement today with the Russian Deputy Minister of Defense Colonel General Alexander Fomin between the Kingdom and the Russian Federation aimed at developing joint military cooperation between the two countries. pic.twitter.com/4gsWfp3JgK
— Khalid bin Salman خالد بن سلمان (@kbsalsaud) August 23, 2021
“Met with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu,” he added, “to explore ways to strengthen the military and defense cooperation and discussed our common endeavor to preserve stability and security in the region.”
The agreement comes on the heels of the withdrawal of US troops from the region and the pull-out of eight Patriot anti-missile systems from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, and Iraq, as well as a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system from the Kingdom.
By choosing to cooperate with Russia, the message to Washington is clear:
“Moscow is now more involved in regional affairs, while the US shows less interest in the Middle East,” Fadi Assaf, co-founder of Beirut-based consultancy Middle East Strategic Perspectives (MESP) said. “Accessing the Saudi defense market would mean a significant political and economic success for the Russians, who are prospecting for other Gulf markets including the UAE and Qatar, while trying to expand their presence in the Iraqi and Turkish markets.”
This isn’t the first arms agreement between the two countries.
In 2017, Russia agreed to sell $3 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, including the rights for local manufacturing of Kornet-EM anti-tank missiles, TOS-1A multi rocket launchers, AGS-30 automatic grenade launchers and Kalashnikov rifles and ammunitions; however, those deals largely stalled out, and the level of equipment now being discussed is of higher capability — and higher geopolitical impact.
The Saudi Crown Prince “sees personal benefits from a rapprochement between the Kingdom and Putin’s Russia, on many levels: mainly as a future King and head of State, Minister of Defense, and above all as the architect of Vision 2030,” Assaf said.
“As for the Russians, they are particularly opportunistic when it comes to the Middle East and the Gulf, and they would not miss any political or business opportunities coming from a huge market such as Saudi Arabia.”
With the United States abandonment of its Afghan allies, and the complete failure of the 20-year war in the Central Asian country, this could prove a tendency from typical US allies to move slightly away from Washington and towards Russia and China to procure their weaponry.
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