Both Syrian Pro and anti Assad websites re-published Reuters story about Saudi Arabia’s efforts to offer to Russia economic incentives including a major arms deal and a pledge not to challenge Russian gas sales if Moscow scales back support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Middle East sources and Western diplomats said on Wednesday.
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 Gulf gas would not threaten Russia's position as a main gas supplier to Europe, Reuters reported Wednesday.
In return, Saudi Arabia wanted Moscow to ease its strong support of Assad and agree not to block any future Security Council Resolution on Syria, they said.
A Gulf 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.
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.
Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Moscow-based defense think tank CAST, said he had no direct knowledge of the offer, but he would not be surprised if a contract to supply Saudi Arabia with 150 Russian T-90 tanks were revived.
"There was an order of T-90s that was stopped for mysterious reasons, and if this is a resurrection of that order then we could suspect that the Saudis want something in return and that something could be linked to Syria," said Pukhov, who is close to Russia's Defense Ministry.
"If the Saudis want Moscow to outright drop Assad, they will refuse the deal, but they may have a more nuanced position, which they could possibly agree to."
A pro-Assad website said that this is not the first time that something like this is reported and there were similar stories already during the last year and even some reports about out-and-out bribes by Saudi Arabia as well as Qatar in direction of several Syrian and Russian officials.
“At least, this attempt of a bribe by Saudi Arabia in direction to the Russian President Vladimir Putin and his administration in Moscow has alleged taken place, according to several sources from the Middle East and some statements by Western diplomats,” The Syria News pro-Assad website reported.