The influential and well-connected General Manager of the Al Arabiya News Channel said that Russia might be invited to establish a base in northwestern Saudi Arabia if the West’s sanctions his Kingdom, but there are plenty of reasons why this will never happen even though relations between the two Great Powers are better than ever before and some observers might therefore have been led to think that this is a believable possibility.
The fast-moving Mainstream Media campaign that was launched last week with the intent of implicating Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) in the purported torture, assassination, and dismemberment of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in his country’s consulate in Istanbul earlier this month expectedly gave rise to loud demands that Western countries impose sanctions against the Kingdom. In response to those credible threats, the influential and well-connected General Manager of the Al Arabiya News Channel published an unprecedented op-ed that described some of the thirty measures that Saudi Arabia might implement in response to this scenario, which scandalously includes the possibility of Riyadh inviting Russia to establish a base in the northwestern Tabuk Region that he attractively described as being strategically located “in the heated four corners of Syria, Israel, Lebanon and Iraq.”
That’s never going to happen, though, and there are plenty of reasons why this was just rhetoric designed to get the West’s attention and show them that Saudi Arabia is serious about imposing unacceptable costs on them if they dare to sanction it over what might ultimately turn out to be a false-flag attack carried out by rogue killers in the employ of rogue royals, like the author speculated upon in his piece titled “Khashoggi Mystery: Rogue Killers Or Rogue Royals?” For starters, the establishment of foreign bases on what is regarded by Muslims as the holy territory of Saudi Arabia was one of the triggers that pushed Osama Bin Laden to turn on his former American patrons after they deployed there during the 1991 Gulf War. The US still retains a presence in the country through the US Military Training Mission (USMTM) but importantly no longer has its own base there, and Russia is unlikely to risk upsetting Muslims by making the same mistake that America once did.
This is especially the case because there isn’t any real reason why it would even need a base in Saudi Arabia other than for vanity’s sake, which isn’t a motivating factor for the Russian military. The country already has a solid presence in Syria from which to exert influence in its Israeli, Lebanese, and Iraqi neighbors if it ever felt inclined to do so, so it wouldn’t need to dispatch its forces to the deserts of Saudi Arabia’s Tabuk Region to accomplish that strategic task. The argument can be made that a base in that part of the country would enable Russia to return to its Soviet-era glory as a maritime power in the Red Sea region, but it doesn’t need Saudi Arabia to do that either. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir invited Russia to establish a naval base in Port Sudan during his trip to Moscow late last year, and Sergei Lavrov recently announced that Russia will open up a logistics center in Eritrea that might also conjecturally fulfill this purpose if both sides want it to.
To be clear, Russia hasn’t publicly made any decision on opening up a Red Sea naval base in either Sudan or Eritrea, but the point being made is that these possibilities were already available even before Al Arabiya’s General Manager published his op-ed suggesting the possibility to do the same in Saudi Arabia, though Moscow still hasn’t gone forward with this despite Khartoum being the first to propose the idea almost a year ago. That in and of itself speaks to the lack of interest that Russia seems to have in this proposal even though it could stand to benefit more in the grand strategic sense if it built a base in a comparatively weaker country like Sudan that might actually need it than in a much stronger one like Saudi Arabia that probably doesn’t. Although this is the case, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Al Arabiya’s proposal didn’t serve any constructive purpose.
Relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia are better than at any time in history after the two Great Powers maturely put aside their old rivalries from the 1980s Afghan War and the early years of the Syrian one to pioneer a completely new era of ties with one another. So close have these two countries become in the brief span of only the past few years that King Salman even paid the first-ever visit of a Saudi Monarch to Russia last October, during which time he and President Putin reached tentative agreements on the supply of S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems, as well as Kornet-EM anti-tank missile systems, TOS-1A “Buratino” heavy flame systems, AGS-30 grenade launchers, and Kalashnikov AK-103 assault rifles. Russia and Saudi Arabia have also very effectively managed to stabilize the international oil market through their OPEC+ cooperation, and they’re also working together to diplomatically resolve the Syrian conflict and encourage mutual investment in one another’s economies.
This has undoubtedly caused a lot of concern among some American strategists who might fear that their country’s decades-long partner is getting too close to what the US officially regards nowadays as its Great Power “competitor”, but such zero-sum thinking is inappropriate in an era when multipolar “balancing” has become the order of the day. Russian-Saudi relations have rapidly expanded across all domains independently of each country’s partnership with the other’s American and Iranian rival, respectively, which proves their refreshing pragmatism in flexibly adapting to the full-spectrum paradigm changes that are heralding in the emerging Multipolar World Order. In no way whatsoever are their ties aimed against any third party, even if some in the US might think differently. The American obsession with zero-sum thinking nevertheless provided the perfect opportunity for an influential and well-connected Saudi media personality to “threaten” to invite Russia to build a base in his country in order to send a message to the US about how serious his Kingdom is in responding to any potential Western sanctions against it over the Khashoggi case.