The Russian-Saudi Showdown at Sochi

Exclusive: Last summer, Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar reportedly offered Russian President Putin a deal: if Russia abandons Syria, Saudi Arabia would protect the Sochi Olympics from Islamic terrorists. Putin is said to have angrily rebuffed the offer. Now, with two terrorist attacks, it’s Putin’s move, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Monday’s terrorist bombings only 400 miles away from the site of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, have a geopolitical back story involving implied threats from Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan to Russian President Vladimir Putin last summer when Bandar was pressing Putin to withdraw his backing for the Syrian government.

According to a diplomatic leak detailing the Bandar-Putin meeting in Moscow on July 31, Bandar suggested that Putin’s agreement to abandon the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad would lead Saudi Arabia to restrain its Chechen terrorist clients who have been attacking Russia targets for years. Putin reportedly grew furious, interpreting Bandar’s offer as a warning that the Sochi games would be threatened by terrorism if Putin didn’t comply.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief, meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At the time, I was even told that Putin warned Saudi Arabia of potentially severe consequences – suggesting military retaliation – if Bandar’s implied warning was followed up by actual terrorist attacks like the ones in Volvograd on Monday, killing more than 30 people.

Of course, it is always hard to trace specific terrorist acts back to their origins and many terrorist cells operate with much autonomy. But Putin has staked much of his prestige on a successful Olympics in Sochi, and he also would risk losing face if it were perceived that Bandar had executed a terrorist plan to disrupt the Winter Olympics and that Putin was powerless to stop it.

According to the leaked diplomatic account of last summer’s meeting, Bandar sought Russia’s cooperation on several Mideast concerns, including Syria, and told Putin, “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.”

Putin reportedly responded, “We know that you have supported the Chechen terrorist groups for a decade. And that support, which you have frankly talked about just now, is completely incompatible with the common objectives of fighting global terrorism that you mentioned. We are interested in developing friendly relations according to clear and strong principles.”

Besides safety for the Sochi Olympics, Bandar raised the potential of Saudi cooperation with Russia on oil and other investment matters, 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,” according to the diplomatic account.

I was told by a source close to the Russian government that this mix of overt inducements and implied threats infuriated Putin who barely kept his anger in check through the end of the meeting with Bandar. Putin viewed Bandar’s offer to protect the Sochi Olympics as something akin to a Mafia don shaking down a shopkeeper for protection money by saying, “nice little business you got here, I’d hate to see anything happen to it.”

Putin then redoubled his support for the Syrian government in response to Bandar’s blend of bribes and warnings. The source said Russia also issued its own thinly veiled threats against the Saudis. The Saudis may have substantial “soft power” – with their oil and money – but Russia has its own formidable “hard power,” including a huge military, the source said.

Bandar and Terrorism

Over the years, Bandar has often treated the issue of “terrorism” as a situational ethic, an ambivalence well-honed since the days when Saudi Arabia and the Reagan administration teamed up to pour billions of dollars into the Afghan mujahedeen and their Arab jihadist allies fighting Soviet troops in the 1980s.

The anti-Soviet effort in Afghanistan brought to prominence Saudi national Osama bin Laden and the terrorists who later consolidated themselves under the global brand, al-Qaeda. In the 1980s, these roving jihadists were hailed as brave defenders of Islam and even “freedom fighters,” but – in the 1990s – they began targeting the United States with terrorist attacks, leading up to 9/11 in 2001.

At the time of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, Bandar was the Saudi ambassador to the United States and was so close to the Bush family that he was nicknamed “Bandar Bush.” Bandar was also very close to the bin Laden family. After the attacks, Bandar even acknowledged having met Osama bin Laden in the context of bin Laden thanking Bandar for his help financing the Afghan jihad project.

“I was not impressed, to be honest with you,” Bandar told CNN’s Larry King about bin Laden. “I thought he was simple and very quiet guy.”

However, immediately after 9/11, Bandar undermined the FBI’s opportunity to learn more about the connections between Osama bin Laden’s relatives and the perpetrators of 9/11 when Bandar arranged for members of the bin Laden family to flee the United States on some of the first planes allowed back into the air – after only cursory interviews with FBI investigators. The only segment of the 9/11 Commission’s report to be blacked out was the part dealing with alleged Saudi financing for al-Qaeda.

Now, as chief of Saudi intelligence, Bandar appears to be back in the game of coercive geopolitics, arranging weapons for some of the most brutal Syrian rebels and Arab mercenaries operating inside Syria, while offering carrots-and-sticks to foreign leaders who are seen are malleable toward Saudi regional interests. The technique may have failed with Putin but had greater success in lining up the French behind Saudi opposition to a negotiated agreement with Iran on its nuclear program.

As a repressive monarchy that preaches the ultra-conservative Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam, Saudi Arabia is bitterly opposed to the democratic reforms of the Arab Spring and the growing influence of Shiite Islam, which now stretches from Iran through Iraq and Syria to the Hezbollah enclaves of Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia backed the military coup in Egypt that ousted the elected Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi. The Saudis also have stepped up assistance to Sunni-dominated rebels in Syria seeking to overthrow the Assad dynasty that is based in the Alawite religion, a branch of Shiite Islam.

The commonality of interests between Saudi Arabia and Israel has given rise to a de facto alliance between the Saudi monarchy and the Jewish government of Israel. Though historically enemies, Israel and Saudi Arabia are now on the same page in backing Egypt’s military regime, in viewing Iran as their principal adversary, and in wanting a rebel victory in Syria.

The shifting sands of Middle East interests also have pushed the United States and Russia closer together, with the former Cold War rivals sharing an interest in tamping down disorder across the region. President Putin and President Barack Obama cooperated in reaching a tentative nuclear deal with Iran and in convincing Syria’s Assad to surrender his chemical weapons. Putin and Obama are pressing for Syrian peace talks, too.

Now, however, a new complication has been introduced: Islamist terrorist attacks aimed at undermining the Sochi Olympics. If Putin concludes that the Saudis are behind these bombings – that the attacks are the equivalent of a Mafia don having a store torched after the owner rebuffed an offer of “protection” – then the issue of Russian retaliation could suddenly be on the table.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

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18 comments on “The Russian-Saudi Showdown at Sochi

  1. These saudi’s are bad people. To think you can first try and bribe the leader of a country, and if you fail, you actually kill innocent people. I think President Putin must not flinch, wait till the Olympics in Sochi is finished and finish off the saudi’s once and for all.

    • Brad Hoffmann on said:

      Agreed, the Saudi’s need to be put in there place. They, the Saudi’s were spoiled rotten by GW Bush & Cheney who allowed and helped facilitate the 9/11 attack on the USA, with them (saudi’s) in my opinion, for the purpose of subjugating the American people for the NWO.

      It is very interesting that the Saudi’s would try this on Putin & Russia.

      The New Year should not be boring !!

      • charles williams on said:

        True, the Saudis are not the “good guys” here, but the elephant in the room not spoken about is the Israeli involvement in 9-11. Osama Bin Laden is a red herring; Saudi involvement was peripherhal to that of the Mossad. Investigate WTC building seven and “five dancing Israelis” to discover the path that leads to truth in these matters. Wake up!

  2. Hillary on said:

    Big “Arab money”is being spent on Military equipment with the French.
    The French then become leaders in the rush to a war with Iran ?

    • Amanda Matthews on said:

      Every industrialized nation on the planet is selling weapons to somebody. The U.S. is a world leader in that marketplace.

      And the main concern of corporations who manufacture weapons is their bottom line.

      Now explain to me how we’re supposed to fix situation like terrorist bombings when governments worldwide protect their arms dealers and help in their distribution.

  3. Aside from many US politicians and local women who try to drive cars, Saudi Arabia controls nothing but wagers and bets at their favorite gaming tables in Monaco.

  4. Mike Young on said:

    My Condolences to Russian families that suffered from this insanity.

    As an American I believe that the Saudi Prince Bandar was involved with these attacks and promoted these attacks. Should Putin send a message, yes.

    Should Putin level city maybe.. depends what Saudi people how they react to what has happen.

    Was the USA CIA involved?, probably and this angers me. The problem is that the Obama does not control the USA CIA. The CIA controlled and financed by the Inter-Alpha Group of banks and people like George Soros who sole purpose is trying to control industry and growth in the world. The inter-Alpha Group of Banks are same people that financed Hitler.

    If I was Putin I would consider assassinating few bankers , who are not helping the USA or Russia in growth of our economy. If you listen to Putin last state of address to Duma 2013, he had something to say about bankers and growth in Russia and the Duma laughed. It not funny, Putin does not think so…. he want to grow the Russian Economy and feed the poor. The Bankers must stop financing the War Machine and start finance infrastructure projects and growth.

    If I was President Obama I would have an Emergency meeting with Putin… to help develop a plan and make a change in direction of the United States is headed and stop the US involvement in terrorist acts. The United states has been involved in attacking ~ 22 countries sense world war II, are they all justified?

    I would immediately pull CIA operates out of the Middle East. Think about it Syria, Bengazy, and now Russia the US CiA was involved.

    What pissis me off is President Obama signed off on putting Al Quata terrorist on American Military aircraft and flying them Syria to kill Syrians, this angers me as an American.

    We need new American president, the United States citizen need to impeach president Obama. We as Americans cannot condone the killing of Russian, Syrians and or United States Citizens by our USA CIA involvement promoting crap.

    I believe the President Obama is involved in creating a one world government has no intentions or love for the USA or Russia he just not smart enough to see it though.

    As American we must declare war on banking, we must reenact the Glass Steagall Act. and the Bretton Woods System of fixed Exchange rates. We must consider true National Bank as third branch of Banking. The United States, Russia, China, India are being played by Inter-Alpha Group of Banks. We must take control of our banking, think about all the money that Obama administration has printed, for what bailouts of gamblers… and bad business practices.. Think about the interest that we are paying the Federal Reserve Bank… The Federal Reserve does not belong to the USA.

    The Inter-Alpha- group of Banks are playing Russia and Putin and the USA like puppets.

    I hope Putin sends them a Message….

    I think Obama is to weak minded and only cares about himself to help.

    Thank you, Putin for you are a great leader and I’m so sad for Russian people.

  5. Thomas wells on said:

    Besides of a couple of cities, there is not much in Saudi Arabia except rock,sand and scorpions. A few neutron bombs would not cause too much radioactivity overall if some Saudi cities got fried.

  6. How could the world remain silent at this very time while terrorist governments like Saudi Arabia rock the the world with a deadly terrorist act without thinking just for a while like roadside gangsters? Does any one ever thought about the future consequence of such act? It is time the US & other countries like Europe & Russia should work together in a brotherhood manner to eradicate terrorism & its hosts once for all. Why not the Saudi govt participate in humanitarian aid for Syrian & Palestinian refugee if they lack enough room to save their big money? Thanks to Iran, Russia & China Syria is safe

  7. Interesting article although i question one stated fact here. The idea that the Saudis were behind the military coup in Egypt seems strange. I was under the impression that the Muslim Brotherhood who brought Mohammad Morsi to power in Egypt were financed by the Saudis. Morsi wanted to implement strict Sunni islamisation. The General of the Egyptian Army, el-Sisi saw this as a big problem and brought him down and expelled his gang. I was under the impression that General Sisi had the support of Assad, Iran and Hesbollah.

    • Mr. Andre,Muslim Brotherhood or Ikhwan ul Muslimeen as it known never was and never will be supported by Saudi Monarchy. Saudi Arabia practices what is known as Wahhabism,which practices the most strict form of islam, and one which wishes to imitate the rule of prophet;so no question of democracy arises.
      Muslim brotherhood on the other hand practices what is known as Political Islam, propunded mainly by Syed qutub shaheed. They believe islam and democracy can flourish together.
      Muslim brotherhood was and is supported by Qatar and Turkey which conform to the Ikhwaan idealogy.
      Iran earlier prvided moral support to Ikhwaan, however the two soon downgraded ties because of Morsi’s support for Syrian rebels and Meshaal’s relocation from Damascus.(Hamas conforms to Brotherhood idealogy)
      Its a very long story but i hope that clears your doubt

  8. Maverick on said:

    After 9/11 USA went on war on Iraq. Now Russia must do the same against Saudi Arabia and Qatar

  9. Saudi nationals funded by Saudis attacked the USA on 9-11, so what does our USA government do, but build up a huge security state to spy on other Americans?

    Their spying should be focused on the Israelis and Saudis because they have historically represented through the use of deception a huge threat to Middle East and world stability. They are always working behind the scenes to undermine others including the USA.

  10. Robert Parry in the past you took the subject of Sunni Muslim militancy being a threat as hype. This post is a change from your past point of view. The problem is serious and unfortunately the US input often ends up making the problem worse.

    Some commenters especially expect a quick change with the help of Russia. We should not however expect Russia to successfully teach Saudi Arabia a lesson. We forget that US troops on sacred Saudi soil, is the first reason bin Laden attacked on 9/11. Bush removed US troops from Saudi Arabia, but al Qaeda smelled a trick when contractors replaced them, thinking the US wasn’t actually leaving. Sadly al Qaeda shames the Saudis into trying to prove they take spreading Sunni-ism seriously.

    If Russia defiles sacred soil al Qeada will try to get Pakistani nukes to attack Russia. Your article gave me a disturbing thought I used to praise France for cutting the overall arms budget when the Eiffel Tower was being threatened but maybe maintaining good relations with the Saudi’s was at least equally important in discouraging the North African wing of al Qaeda from attacking.

    The main thing we can all do is start paying attention to differences in the Muslim world, and emphasize the life stories of the women and children killed or injured. We got to keep doing it. The US leaving Afghanistan during an economic crunch in the US might empower Sunni militancy the way the collapse of the USSR made bin Laden proud of himself. A quick peace conference with Russia and Iran with or without a Saudi presence then a quick exit would be far better. The US and Vietnam are now friends as is France and Algeria. If the US leaves the wrong way there may be endless follow up like Russia experiences. Please Robert Parry lets work together at finding real ways of cooling this militancy. We got to point out how al Qaeda baits the US to fight with other Muslims and does such things as symbolically appointing an ex-US detainee as the head of al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula to discourage the US from closing Guantanamo prison.

    I can’t remember the name of the Egyptian Muslim opposing al Qeada terror, but here is another group I found on the internet,
    https://www.facebook.com/MuslimsAgainstWahhabismTerrorism

    Feisal Abdul Rauf and his attempted ground zero peace Mosque was an opportunity to stand up to al Qaeda terror,
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feisal_Abdul_Rauf

    The US is a stupid bull that al Qaeda waves a red cloth in front on the make us do what will help empower their cause. Sadly this extract leaves out the Neocons and others who along with al Qaeda craves trouble. However al Qaeda is clearly one of the pillars of the effort toward making things go wrong.

    Robert Parry I am sad that my email cc.d to you and others received no response from you. Hope you can respond to a private comment.

  11. Unfortunately most Americans are so out of touch with distinguishing one Muslim from another that to criticized Saudi Arabia spreads the idea that Muslims are bad.

    The one bright spot is that ordinary Americans grasp the concept that giving up our civil liberties is giving al Qaeda types what they want of us. The best hope is to over and over again try to add the concept that when we let al Qaeda franchises bait us to get in fights with other Muslims and when they bait us into wasting a lot of money in the direction of financial collapse we are also giving into what they want of us. Let’s try to repeat this point over and over again like we do giving up our civil liberties is giving in to them.