A rare public spat between Russia and Saudi Arabia erupted after Russia criticised Saudi Arabia’s “human rights record” in the Kingdom’s predominantly Shiite Eastern Province. The Saudis responded by criticising what they called Russia’s interference in the country’s internal affairs, calling the remarks by Russia "hostile".
The Russians were referring to protests following the arrest of hard-line Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities.
Saudi Arabia as well as other GCC states, have been very critical of the Syrian regime, which they accuse if being supported by the Russians and Iranians. Russia has been blocking further UN sanctions against the Syrian regime and have expressed anger at calls by the West and other Arab states for the the Syrian president to step-down. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have notablly been arming Syrian rebels fighting the Syrian army.
Meanwhile, Russian media are reporting claims that Bahrain crackdown is on the rise, with Russia Today TV widely reporting "crackdown on pro-democracy protestors".
July 15, 2012
Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk
The diplomatic clash between the Saudis and the Russian is one of the most serious to face Saudi Arabia in recent times. It carries with it two main issues that lead to an increase in risk.
Firstly, it is the first time in recent history that a prominent power like Russsia, has criticized alleged human right violations in the Eastern Province. This can only lead to encouraging the Shiite minority who mostly live in the Eastern Province, to increase their demands. The key demand of the Shiite hardliners to internationalize their case has essentially been satisfied by the Russian statements, and it is likely that this will lead to an increase in risk of civil and intensified unrest, both in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province as well as in Bahrain. There are potentially long-term ramifications in regards to this part of the Kingdom;
Secondly, it is a manifestation of the bi-polar geopolitical scene that is taking shape in the Arab region. The Russians have decided to make this statement after months of wrangling’s with the Saudis and others on Syria. The Russians have essentially regionalized the Syrian conflict, increasing the political pressure on Saudi Arabia and the GCC states.
This follows longer term tense relations between the Qataris and the Russians. The overall effect is that there is an overall increase in political risk.