President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan is starting his visit to Saudi Arabia today. Quite recently, Riyadh announced it is forming a coalition of Muslim countries against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Yet, this alliance of Riyadh is anti-Russian, as it seeks to overthrow President of Syria Bashar al-Assad – Erdogan welcomes the idea. Yet, it is not the only idea that unites Ankara and Riyadh: Moscow may become a common enemy for them, writes Vzglyad, a Russian newspaper.
According to Ankara, the Turkish leader is paying a two-day visit to Saudi Arabia at the behest of King Salman. The sides plan to discuss cooperation in the political, economic, cultural, and trade fields. Syria, Yemen and Iraq will be on agenda too. Turks and Saudis will discuss also Russia’s participation in the counter-terrorist operation against ISIL.
Ahead of his visit to Saudi Arabia Erdogan said in an interview with Al Arabiya: “In recent years the Turkish-Saudi relations witnessed unprecedented remarkable development not seen before.” “We have developments in the economic, military and cultural relations, and I believe that our relations, with this latest visit, will witness a big leap because our points of view are identical. We dealt with the issue of Yemen in the same way, as well as our identical perspectives to the developments in the Middle East,” Erdogan said.
Actually, Vzglyad writes, Ankara and Riyadh have nearly the same stands on the Syrian issue: both insist that Assad leaves and do not agree on his power even in the period of transitional government. Recently, Erdogan confirmed that he would not sit at the same table with Assad, as he does not recognize his legitimacy. Saudi Arabia has the same stand on the issue. As for the military force, both Turkey and Saudi Arabia support the so-called “moderate” Syrian opposition groups.
Erdogan and Salman will discuss a range of political issues, including Iran’s influence that has grown after the nuclear deal in Vienna. Earlier, Erdogan expressed hope that “disagreements between Turkey and Iran will not affect good neighborly relations of the two countries.” However, Ankara and Tehran are known to have a range of serious disparities. They have completely opposite stands on most of the regional conflicts. The same situation is in the relations of Iran and Saudi Arabia. The conflict in Yemen has grown into geopolitical confrontation of the two centers of the Sunni and Shiite camps of the Middle East.
Leaders of Turkey and Saudi Arabia are expected to discuss also the cooperation with Egypt with which Ankara has rather tense relationships. It is known that Erdogan does not support current President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Muslim Brotherhood that came to power in Egypt during the “Arab spring” enjoyed Turkey’s support. Erdogan welcomed the appointment of Mohamed Morsi, the candidate from “Muslim Brotherhood”, as president of Egypt and supported him even after he was jailed. This spring, Erdogan said Morsi will always remain the president of Egypt for him.
In these regional issues, Russia’s role cannot be neglected. After all, Egypt and Iran are among prior partners of Moscow. Russia supports the president of Egypt. Iran like Russia supports Bashar al-Assad.
Yevgeny Satanovsky, President of the Institute for Middle East Studies, political analyst, told the newspaper that the Turkish president’s visit to Saudi Arabia is fairly anti-Russian and even anti-Putin.
“There are three countries whose lives our counter-terrorist operation in Syria has embittered. These are Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. One of them planned to establish a new Ottoman Empire, the other dreamed of a regional caliphate. Launching operation against IS in Syria Russia has, to put it mildly, changed their plans. Quite lately, we destroyed one of the major terrorists in Syria – Zahran Alloush, who was Saudi Arabia-oriented. Now, 'spiders and ghouls' will be plotting against Russia. All these countries de-facto supported terrorists in Russia. We had been fighting against them in the Caucasus all the 1990s. Everyone knows what has spoiled our relations with Turkey. Now we are openly at feuds with them,” Satanovsky said.
The expert says Riyadh and Ankara are too weak to counteract Russia. They can do nothing serious. “Establishment of the so-called anti-terrorist union led by Saudi Arabia and involving Turkey is aimed against Russia too. The point is that there is no union. In fact, it is a terrorist union involving Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar. That union works quite successfully and the results of that work are evident in Syria and Iraq. Everything Turkey and Saudi Arabia have done has always been against Russia,” Satanovsky says.
Talking to Vzglyad newspaper, he said “Riyadh and Ankara may start coordinating the actions of the Caucasian underground in Russia and preparing terror attacks.”
Azhdar Kurtov, political analyst at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies (RISS), told Vzglyad that Turkey and Saudi Arabia have differences of principle despite their strategic union against Russia.
“Of course, cooperation of Saudi Arabia and Turkey in Syria is of anti-Russian nature. Their hatred towards their enemy unites them. Russia is now their enemy, as it is trying to do in Middle East what does not meet the interests of Turkey and Saudi Arabia. In this sense, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Saudi Arabia and Turkey fund terrorist organizations fighting against Assad through various channels. We support the legitimate authorities of Syria. In short, their union against Syria is a union against Russia,” Kurtov said.
However, the Turkey-Saudi relations are not as good as it might seem. Both the countries claim leadership in the region and compete with each other. “Turkish President Erdogan’s policy looks to create a new Ottoman Empire – the leader in the Middle East. This runs contrary to Saudi Arabia’s plans for regional leadership,” he said.
The current discrepancies have historical roots, Kurtov says. “The territory of Saudi Arabia had been under Ottoman Empire for a long time. Turkish sultan was the religious leader of Muslims – caliph. Riyadh does not recognize that, indeed. It believes that only an Arab, the successor of Prophet Muhammad, can be the caliph,” the expert explained.