Saudi Arabia, with US backing, offered Russia better oil and gas prices in Europe in return for the fall of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, a leaked report claims.
The revelation originally came in the Arabic language Lebanese paper As-Safir on 21 August.
The daily, which has links to the pro-Assad Lebanese group Hezbollah, leaked quotes from what it calls a “diplomatic report” of a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan in Moscow on 31 July.
It did not say which side drafted the report.
It quotes Bandar as saying: “Let us examine how to put together a unified Russian-Saudi strategy on the subject of oil. The aim is to agree on the price of oil and production quantities that keep the price stable in global oil markets. … We understand Russia’s great interest in the oil and gas present in the Mediterranean Sea from Israel to Cyprus through Lebanon and Syria. And we understand the importance of the Russian gas pipeline to Europe. We are not interested in competing with that. We can co-operate in this area.”
At an earlier point in the meeting, he notes: “Any understanding we reach in this meeting will not only be a Saudi-Russian understanding, but will also be an American-Russian understanding. I have spoken with the Americans before the visit, and they pledged to commit to any understandings that we may reach.”
The leak depicts Bandar as saying he has sway over Chechen militant Islamist groups and will prompt them to attack the Olympic games in Sochi, Russia, next year, unless Putin complies.
“I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us,” he is reported as saying.
“We guarantee you that Russia’s interests in Syria and on the Mediterranean coast will not be affected one bit. In the future, Syria will be ruled by a moderate and democratic regime that will be directly sponsored by us,” he reportedly added.
The leak makes Putin look like a sponsor of peace.
He speaks of “developing friendly relations according to clear and strong principles” with Saudi Arabia.
He also speaks of calling on Turkey to find a “political settlement” to Syria, of his “concern” about civil war in Egypt and of his support for “the Iranian quest to obtain nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes.”
If the “diplomatic report” is authentic, it fits in with recent developments on the Syria conflict.
On the one hand, Russia has criticised the US and pro-intervention EU countries, France and the UK, warning of a “catastrophe” in the Middle East if they get involved.
But on the other hand, the nuclear-armed power has indicated it will not take action to stop them.
When asked by Russian media on Monday how Moscow would react to a Western strike, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said he is “not planning to go to war with anyone.”
For his part, British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday continued to make the case for a small-scale attack.
He told the BBC in an interview: “This is not about getting involved in a Middle Eastern war, or changing our stance in Syria, or going further into that conflict. It’s nothing to do with that. It’s about chemical weapons. Their use is wrong and the world shouldn’t stand idly by.”
He added that the potential military strike will be “proportionate” and designed “specifically to deter and degrade the future use of chemical weapons.”
He noted he does not have “100 percent certainty” that al-Assad killed hundreds of people in a gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus last week.
But he said the idea the opposition did it is “vanishingly small.”
For his part, Lord West, a former British naval chief, told British newspaper the Daily Mail on Tuesday that a small-scale strike might not be effective.
“What if Assad says: ‘Get lost,’ and uses chemical weapons again? Are we going to escalate military action? I have a horrible feeling that one strike would quickly become more. The region is a powder keg. We simply can’t predict which way military action will go and whether it would draw us, unwillingly, further into a conflict,” he said.
Meanwhile, Iran has indicated that it is ready to get more deeply involved in the conflict if Syria, its ally, is hit by outside forces.
“We want to strongly warn against any military attack in Syria. There will definitely be perilous consequences for the region … These complications and consequences will not be restricted to Syria. It will engulf the whole region,” its foreign ministry spokesman, Abbas Araqchi, told media in Tehran.