The Russia-Turkey-Germany-France summit in Istanbul on October 27 is an extraordinary affair. The Kremlin has been deploying a wily strategy, downplaying the summit as just “comparing notes”, and not a breakthrough.
Yet Istanbul is a de facto breakthrough in itself – on superimposed layers. It signals the top two EU powers acquiescing that Russia is in control of Syria’s future. It confers extra legitimacy to the Astana format (Russia, Turkey, Iran) on Syria, as well as adding new meaning to the efficacy of a quad.
The nominal Quad (US, Japan, India and Australia) is essentially a mechanism of Chinese containment already showing signs of derailment. In contrast, there’s a Eurasian Quad that will be discussing not only the geopolitical chessboard in wider southwest Asia but also the supreme trans-Atlantic dilemma: how to deal with Washington’s sanction obsession.
Istanbul, of course, won’t “solve” the tragedy in Syria. President Putin is carefully maneuvering around President Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman ambitions while the EU pair is not exactly in a strong negotiating position.
Putin has already appeased Saudi Arabia, and that’s no mean feat. No more funding and weaponizing of any forms of Salafi-jihadism in Syria. The Arab League – with no Saudi objections – is even embarking on normalizing relations with Damascus.
Imran Khan seeking resolution for Yemen
Riyadh is now part of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which will in fact be “renamed as the Russian-Chinese-Saudi Fund”, as revealed by its director, Kirill Dmitriev, at the Future Investment Initiative, or “Davos in the Desert”. The fund was originally set up in 2012 by RDIF and China Investment Corporation (CIS) to turbo-charge bilateral economic cooperation between Moscow and Beijing.
Davos in the Desert, by the way, yielded a bombshell that was virtually ignored by the 24/7 news-cycle dementia. Prime Minister Imran Khan, fresh from receiving a much-needed Saudi cash injection to his nation’s economy, revealed that Pakistan is mediating a resolution for the tragedy in Yemen between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Geopolitically, Moscow and Beijing – as well as Tehran – have kept a thunderous, strategic silence on the Pulp Fiction saga at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which is pregnant with ramifications. In parallel, unlike US businessmen, Russian and Chinese executives duly attended Davos in the Desert.
And then, just out of the blue, the grisly Khashoggi story that kept the global news cycle hostage for three weeks simply vanished from the front pages, displaced by the US pipe bomb “suspicious package” mail campaign.
Bone Saw conundrum
Still, the Quad in Istanbul is directly linked to Pulp Fiction in Istanbul. After Erdogan masterfully played Death by a Thousand Leaks – and on top of it determined full Saudi responsibility for the killing and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi – by now it’s clear that a deal has virtually been struck with the House of Saud. The Chinese torture of leak after leak, deployed by Turkish media, magically vanished.
King Salman, Alzheimer’s or not, had to send an ultra-high level emissary, Prince Khalid al-Faisal, the governor of Mecca and Medina, to Ankara for some heavy bargaining. Terms remain hazy: a heavily rumored $5 billion – or as much as $30 billion – Saudi investment package in Turkey may be part of it, as well as the end of the Saudi and UAE blockade of Qatar. Additionally, it’s no accident the Trump administration suddenly backtracked and decided not to cut Iran off SWIFT.
And then there’s Syria. Erdogan has prevailed on his demand that the House of Saud must cease for good weaponizing an array of Salafi-jihadi outfits – in parallel to Washington ending its collaboration with Syrian Kurds.
Erdogan is, geopolitically, sitting at the top of the world, at least his world. The gruesome audio-video soundtrack of the killing of Khashoggi – crucially examined by CIA head Gina Haspel in her whirlwind return flight – offers unbounded leverage.
No deal could possibly be clinched without direct Trump administration involvement. King Salman simply cannot afford to let his son Mohammed bin Salman (MbS, or Mohammed Bone Saw, as cynics prefer), fall. Neither can Trump, as MbS is the cornerstone of his Middle East strategy.
Prince Turki bin Faisal, a former close pal of Osama bin Laden, former head of Saudi intel and former sponsor of Jamal Khashoggi, maintains that whatever happens the House of Saud will rally behind MbS.
That may not be the case, according to a Western business source very close to the House of Saud, who told Asia Times, “the CIA never wanted MbS but Mohammed bin Nayef. He is still under house arrest and that was King Salman’s fatal mistake. Mohammed bin Nayef is wise and against terrorism. He should be the next King and that may not be far away. MbS made a fatal mistake in arresting the sons of King Abdullah such as Mutaib. He has lost the National Guard, the clergy, the royal family and the military through the Yemen misadventure.”
In all plausible scenarios the House of Saud is rotting from the inside. Erdogan-aligned Turkish media, incidentally, now is going no holds barred: it’s the whole House of Saud that’s gotta go.
Still, a US Deep State preference for Nayef over MbS presupposes nothing drastic should happen to the petrodollar. The question is how to tame the array of Saudi billionaire princes – some of them former, royally extorted “guests” at the Ritz-Carlton jail – who will double down on getting rid of MbS by any means necessary.
Salman does Russia-China
Major loose ends are not tied up – yet. As Alastair Crooke argues no one knows whether Erdogan will ever be able to extricate the Trump administration from relying on the Saudis and the Emiratis and instead support the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood model.
Some have claimed that the CIA knew MbS intel goons were planning to kidnap Khashoggi, but never warned the Washington Post writer.
Which brings us to Erdogan’s chief aide Yigit Bulut’s explosive claim that “Khashoggi’s murder was staged to put Saudi Arabia and the king in a very difficult position and to surrender Saudi Arabia completely to the United States.”
And that leads us to the potentially larger than life geopolitical game-changer. What did King Salman really discuss with President Putin when he went to Moscow almost a year ago? What if Russia – not to mention China – are the wily old king’s “alliance” backup plan, as he figured the alliance with the US might finally be dwindling? What if Russia, China and Saudi Arabia soon start bypassing the petrodollar?
A case can be made that the House of Saud, slowly but surely, might have been steered – by the King, not MbS – towards a Russia-China strategic partnership, which means Eurasia integration. Significantly, King Salman called Putin, and not Trump, when Pulp Fiction in Istanbul started to calm down.
The roulette is still turning. MbS might as well be confirmed as The Bone Saw Killer. The House of Saud may once again save itself via its ability to buy its way out of anything. Alternatively, the whole Pulp Fiction may have been a convoluted psy-ops designed to frame MbS, pre-empt any possibility of closer Russia-China-Saudi cooperation, and place the House of Saud under unmistakable US control.
Istanbul has certainly not unveiled all its secrets.