SCOTT RITTER: Syria Comes in From the Cold

After the Chinese-brokered rapprochement between Saudi Araba and Iran, another diplomatic coup is unfolding in the Middle East. This one is orchestrated by the Russians.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on March 15. (Vladimir Gerdo, TASS)

By Scott Ritter
Special to Consortium News

While the world continues to come to grips with the reality — and consequences — of the Chinese-brokered rapprochement between Saudi Araba and Iran, another diplomatic coup is unfolding in the Middle East.

This one is orchestrated by the Russians. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan flew to Damascus last week, where he met Syrian President Bashar Assad. This visit followed that of Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad earlier this month to Riyadh.

The two countries severed diplomatic relations in 2012 at the beginning of a Syrian civil conflict that saw Saudi Arabia throwing its money behind anti-regime fighters seeking to remove Assad from power.

The startling diplomatic about face is part of a new Saudi Arabian foreign policy, embodied in its historic new relationship with Iran, which seeks to engender regional stability through conflict resolution instead of military-brokered containment.

As the Saudi Foreign Ministry noted on bin Farhan’s visit to Damascus, the Saudi goal is “to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis that would end all its repercussions and preserve Syria’s unity, security, stability, and Arab identity and restore it to its Arab surroundings.”

Dramatic Outbreak of Diplomacy

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan in January. (World Economic Forum, /Ciaran McCrickard, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The dramatic outbreak of diplomacy between Riyadh and Damascus is the by-product of Russia’s growing influence in Middle Eastern affairs and is one of the clearest signals yet of the declining role of the United States, whose military and diplomatic posture in the region has greatly diminished over the course of the past few years.

Russia has long-standing ties with the Syrian government. In 2015, its intervention during Syria’s civil conflict upheld the Assad government, allowing it to regain the initiative against the U.S.-and Saudi-backed opposition.

Russia’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, however, was more complex, with the Saudis having strategically aligned themselves with U.S. foreign and national security objectives in the Middle East and in global energy policies.

But that dynamic changed after October 2018, when Saudi security agents, alleged to have been working under the direct orders of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, murdered Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Jamal Khashoggi, second from left, during a June 4, 2009, roundtable with U.S. President Barack Obama, at far left. (The White House, Wikimedia Commons)

The Saudis took umbrage at the U.S. outcry at the crime, especially when then-presidential candidate Joe Biden threatened the crown prince, popularly known as MbS, with isolation and punishment.

“We were going to in fact make them pay the price, and make them in fact the pariah that they are,” Biden said during a televised debate in November 2019, adding that there is “very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia.”

Biden was later to regret those words when, in July 2022, he was compelled to fly to Saudi Arabia and ask MbS to increase oil production to lower energy costs that had skyrocketed because of the consequences of U.S.-led efforts to sanction Russian oil and gas in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

While MbS received Biden, the U.S. did not get the results it wanted from the meeting for reasons that went beyond poor personal chemistry between MbS and Biden. By then, both Saudi Arabia and Russia recognized that, as major oil producers, their interests were not well served by competing in a market dominated by U.S.-driven angst.

Russian state visit to Saudi Arabia, Oct. 14, 2019. (Kremlin)

This realization matured in the spring of 2020 in the aftermath of an “oil war” between the two nations which saw Saudi Arabia precipitously lower the price of oil by overproducing, only to be matched by Russia.

The Saudi-Russian oil war ended because of negotiations brokered by then-President Donald Trump and for a while the world was compelled to live in an environment where the top three oil producers — the U.S., Russia and Saudi Arabia — openly colluded on global production quotas.

But then came the Russian invasion of Ukraine, U.S.-led energy sanctions and the recognition by both Russia and Saudi Arabia that the U.S. was not a stable partner when it came to managing the most important economic resource of their nations — energy.

US-Saudi Relations Strained

President Joe Biden on phone with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in February 2022. (White House, Adam Schultz)

As Russia-Saudi bonds grew stronger based upon shared goals and objectives, the strain between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. likewise grew, driven by the total disconnect that existed between the Biden administration and MbS over Middle East policy.

Saudi Arabia has embarked on an ambitious project, Vision 2030, which seeks to transition the oil-rich kingdom away from its current over-reliance on energy production to a more diversified economy based upon modern technologies and non-energy economic initiatives. 

A key prerequisite for this vision is for Saudi Arabia to become a force of connectivity in the region and the world — something that U.S.-driven policies promoting regional instability and war made impossible. The Biden administration had doubled down on a policy in which Saudi Arabia served as the keystone in confronting Iran along an arc of crisis stretching from Lebanon, through Syria and Iraq; and into Yemen.

Saudi Arabia confronted the reality that it could not win its war in Yemen (ongoing since 2014), and that the U.S.-led destabilization efforts in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq were floundering. With its own economic diversification goal in mind, it opted to work with Russia to engender the kind of stability needed for energy-driven economies to flourish.

Russia quietly organized talks with both Saudi and Syrian officials and diplomats, culminating with the March 2023 visit of President Assad to Moscow, where the issue of a rapprochement with Saudi Arabia was finalized.

Work remains to be done, however, as Saudi Arabia’s effort to bring Syria back into the ranks of the Arab League faces resistance from staunch U.S. allies Jordan, Kuwait and Qatar. But the fact is that, thanks to Russian and Chinese diplomacy, peace, not war, is breaking out all over in the Middle East. Bringing Syria in from the cold is simply the most recent manifestation of the phenomena.

Scott Ritter is a former U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm and in Iraq overseeing the disarmament of WMD. His most recent book is Disarmament in the Time of Perestroika, published by Clarity Press.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

22 comments for “SCOTT RITTER: Syria Comes in From the Cold

  1. Jams O'Donnell
    April 26, 2023 at 12:48

    I have to say, despite there being very real and tragic consequences to the US’s folly, it is almost incredible funny that US functionaries are so basically stupid. I can see what there goals are – mostly varieties of continuing dominance in world affairs – and though I don’t sympathise with these goals, I can also clearly see that only brain-dead arrogance would make them pursue these goals in such a self-defeating way. It really makes you believe that there actually is some weird chemical in the water system which is dumbing down these klutzes. I mean, even though Brezhinsky and Kissinger were psychopathic war criminals, nobody would accuse them of being stupid – just misguided. These days are gone – stupid rules now in the US (and UK and EU). I suppose its to everyone else’s advantage.

  2. robert e williamson jr
    April 26, 2023 at 11:30

    Scott, Thank you once again.

    Sure isn’t very pretty is it. Reality works that way. Stick your head in the sand for 60 or 70 years and wonder why you don’t know what hell is going on when you finally come up for air.

    Hello Joey!

    The U.S. leadership constantly searching for a new conflict to back, instead of brokering peace got it’s war.

    The much self-maligned Saudis had an opportunity to “fuck with a Biden” and did so by brokering peace in Syria with the help of Russia.

    What now Joey? For the sake of DOG!

    Heads Up: Beau of the Fifth Column, April 25, 2023, Let’s talk about Democratic primary debates.

    I’m never sure how informed everyone who comments here is, everyone might desire to go to the YouTube and watch this video. Beau focuses on the outcomes of elections where the incumbent, in this case of either party is faced with serious challenges from within their own party.

    Turns out the devil is in the details.

    Everyone should have seen this one coming before the last election. This is the direct result of Democratic leadership hand picking their own candidate, the voter be damned.

    The only conscionable difference being, the witless democraps hand picking Biden while the totally lost republicans allowed Trump to anoint himself with the balm of the all mighty dollar and run for office.

    Of course you all can do your own research, especially, if you might find Beau an unacceptable messenger, but the video runs 6:20 and the message is clear and unbiased.

    Could be the only way to fix America is to to jack the current government up in the air and drive a new one under it.

    Consider your self warned.

    Thanks CN

  3. Milenko Barudzija
    April 26, 2023 at 02:30

    USA hegemonism forces everyone (even formerly enemies) to unite against the evil hegemon.

  4. Graeme
    April 25, 2023 at 02:13

    What’s this going to mean for Rojava?

  5. ifu can
    April 25, 2023 at 01:27

    One of the most honest, smart, courageous and insightful -made by accident analysts, my favorite of all time, Scott Ritter.
    Thank you very much for writing truth.

  6. Anon
    April 24, 2023 at 22:52

    Surprised Noone (commentors included) mentioned RFK Jr. & his surprise POTUS run anouncement.
    Ultra courageous move… to provide credible challenge to Biden… whose Ukraine oil corruption likely contributed to this “ONE more time now!” situation.

  7. JTMcPhee
    April 24, 2023 at 20:42

    Given the off-the-rails behavior of the imperial warlords, like Ukraine in bulk and assassinations of Sullivan, I wonder if the reason so many people were watching the progress of Lavrov’s flight to New York was morbid fascination. Would the warlords shoot down the plane? Was there a bomb aboard? We mopes can bet that more than one of the Fokkers and Fuggers in the ruling elite asked “Will no one rid me of this troublesome diplomat?”

    A long series of US Great Gamers have made it clear that “nothing is off the table.” And to think I was stupid enough to enlist in the imperial army 1966 to protect the Constitution, that quaint document.

  8. Dennis Hanna
    April 24, 2023 at 19:59

    How long before there is a “color revolution” and the disposal, dethroning of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman?

    dennis hanna

  9. bardamu
    April 24, 2023 at 16:53

    This has to be the sort of thing that the US imagined that it could prevent by undertaking a coup and war in Ukraine and by blowing up gas pipelines supplying Germany.

    If lines open from China through to the Mediterranean states, trade can blossom, the dominance of shipping across the Atlantic and Pacific will subside to some degree, and post-colonial states will have more options by which to negotiate.

    Of course, part of this is the demise or de-centering of the petrodollar, but this also appears to be in progress, largely by the same hands. As upsetting and dangerous as American and NATO belligerence is and has been during this turn, we might be thankful that the acute explosions of violence have not suddenly become general and empire wide.

    Perhaps the 500 year dominance of “the West” can be disassembled without the decimation of populations worldwide, despite all the resources empire has lined up to accomplish that.

    May we live differently.

  10. Observer
    April 24, 2023 at 16:32

    Well, anything that helps bring peace to Syria is to be welcomed. But there are still other enemies of Syria with a lot more clout than Jordan or a couple of Gulf sheikdoms: in today’s news, we learn that the EU will impose even more sanctions on Syria. So much for its “value-oriented foreign policy”!

  11. Kubrick Kubess
    April 24, 2023 at 14:11


    And its been true since I was organizing against Cheney, Bush, Nuland, Clinton, Biden, etc, and their illegal Iraq War that prematurely ended the lives of at least 1,000,000 sentient souls.

    Thank you Mr. Ritter!!!!!

  12. Chris
    April 24, 2023 at 14:06

    The dominoes fall

  13. Kubrick Kubess
    April 24, 2023 at 13:48

    Russia’s relationship with the KSA changed before 2018.

    Back under the Great Liberal Obama, and the Vice President from MasterCard Biden, they found that they could get oil from ‘fracking’ America. So much oil that America stopped being the massive oil importer that it had been for decades.

    What did the Great Liberal Obama decide to do with this newly discovered natural wealth? Did he implement a program to hire,train and pay better our nurses to provide for national security should the warnings of SARS and MERS and Swine Flu develope into a pandemic?

    Nope, the Great Liberal Obama decided to “get Russia”. The Brilliant Plan was that since Russia was a ‘gas station with an army’, the Great Liberal decided to attack the price of oil to get Russia.

    As usual with the American’s Brilliant Plans, it did not work exactly like that. Russia was more resilient than the Senator from Brain Damage had imagined when formulating America’s strategy, and the plan had, like all American plans, collateral damage.

    The collateral damage was done to the KSA. The price of oil dropped, and suddenly the KSA was running a deficit and having to borrow money from the bankers. The KSA’s big plans of how to shift away from oil as the basis of their economy took big hits.

    That was when Russia and the KSA began to work together. That was the birth of OPEC+. At first, the western talking heads said it would never work. That they could never trust each other, and the each would certainly cheat on the deal and thus crash it.

    But, Russia and the KSA found that when they made a deal with each other, both sides actually kept the deal, and was willing to work together on future deals. This must have been a big surprise to countries who were used to working with the Americans and the American motto of “we lie, we cheat, we steal, and we are very proud of ourselves.”

    That was when the relations between Russia and the KSA began to develop. When the Great Liberal decided to both frack America and Get Russia.

  14. Robert Sinuhe
    April 24, 2023 at 12:33

    This development has its impetus in 1948 when then president Truman decided, against the advice of every intelligence organization at the time not to recognize Israel. Those organizations realized the economic importance of siding instead with the oil producing nations of the Arab Middle East. Over time this decision has come down to affect U.S. foreign policy in the region. Consequently, Israeli policy in the region has loomed large thanks to powerful pro Israel Jewish organizations and its supporters in the United States such that American policy has been subsumed thereby. This is but one of the pieces to the puzzle in the Middle East that has served to confound the United States.

  15. Chris N
    April 24, 2023 at 12:02

    Thanks for your moral courage and integrity Mr. Ritter

  16. Carl Zaisser
    April 24, 2023 at 11:44

    I hope leadership in the Middle East becomes more diverse than in the US hegemony driven past. It would be great, if after 20 years of outright warfare, things began to change. I’m sure Scott Ritter has his finger on the pulse there, and I hope he is right and things keep moving in the direction of peace and accommodation. However, sometimes SR has been a bit over-optimistic in his assessments in Ukraine in regard to Russia’s slam-dunk dominance. We’ll have to be cautious and see how things play out in the Middle East.

  17. Jeff Harrison
    April 24, 2023 at 11:06

    And with peace, the world will become a richer, better place. Except for the weapons makers who should use their considerable capabilities for more useful purposes.

  18. Thomas Adams
    April 24, 2023 at 10:48

    Australian Government is “dancing” to the U.S. directives. Our recent “Force Posture” agreement with the U.S. confirms Australia to be a mass forward supply and communications partner, allowing the U.S. to operate large military and air defense bases completely free of Australian Sovereignty, and without “Hindrance”. This includes runways for nuclear capable bombers,which will never “Confirm or Deny”their presence.Australia is already hard at work re-ordering our “Force Posture” war making equipment. Also, advertising for military recruits is in progress.However, what the Australian population is not being warned about, is the fact requiring , in about two years time, increased military call-up using conscription of our young men and women. They will get two years training, and then they will be fighting the U.S. War with China. Just like Ukraine, it will be Australians fighting till the last Australian.The “Force Posture Agreement” confirms that U.S. support will be limited to supply of weapons only, definitely not U.S. Military personnel. Australia has nothing to fear from China, there is no threat or cause for concern; AUKUS must be consigned to the dustbin of history.

  19. torture this
    April 24, 2023 at 10:37

    “staunch U.S. allies” (for now)

  20. vinnieoh
    April 24, 2023 at 10:26

    “While the world continues to come to grips with the reality — and consequences — of the Chinese-brokered rapprochement between Saudi Araba and Iran, another diplomatic coup is unfolding in the Middle East.”

    Watching US MSM you’d hardly know this was true, or in fact, anything about it. Thank you, Scott, for reporting on this, another “non-story” sure to be ignored by US MSM.

    A word of caution though: the die-hard empire-mongers of the US will not go down without fighting the whole way, and they still believe they can win by controlling who gets energy, how much, and on what terms. The strategy also requires the restriction or banning of energy from producing nations, and the crazies will increasingly use military might to enforce those choking efforts against any and all.

    For the longest time I did not want to believe that US imperialists would burn everything down rather than accept anything but undisputed first place. Their continued intransigence and denial of the changing realities of this 21st century is beyond frightening.

  21. mgr
    April 24, 2023 at 08:01

    Thank you. Since, in my opinion, Joe Biden has no moral center, every action he takes is for his own political benefit. This is what he has done all his life. By now, it is simply instinct. You have to wonder how many hours, perhaps years of his life, he has spent in grinning practice in front of a mirror. Too bad he didn’t spend some of that time practicing to be a human being. Of course, his own vacuousness has led him to surround himself with vacuous advisors. And underlying all their foreign policy positions is the now quickly unraveling assumption that all the nations and peoples of the world exist at the pleasure and convenience of the Unite States, and in particular for Joe Biden. Apparently, Joe arrived finally on the scene just a few years too late. The world has changed under his feet.

    Ironically perhaps, the catalyst for this sudden and profound change in the world, which has been underway though out of sight, is the outcome of the profoundly vacuous understanding, malign motivation and inflated sense of importance of Biden and his staff. Well, “garbage in/garbage out,” as the world rapidly improves without America’s constraints on peace.

    • Korey Dykstra
      April 24, 2023 at 18:00

      Best description of Biden I’ve ever read. Could not have said it better

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