Russia’s ties with Saudi Arabia seemed to have suffered another jolt after Moscow warned Riyadh not to try and change the balance of power in Syria, by supplying Pakistan-made shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapons to the armed opposition.
On Tuesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was “deeply concerned” by reports that Saudi Arabia was planning to buy Pakistani-made shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles and anti-tank weapons for the Jordan-based Syrian opposition, battling the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Alarmed by the possible transfers, the Ministry said that such a move would pose a security threat that would be felt far beyond Syrian borders.
“If this sensitive weapon falls into the hands of extremists and terrorists who have flooded Syria, there is a great probability that in the end it will be used far from the borders of this Middle Eastern country,” said the Foreign Ministry statement. Analysts point out that Moscow is well aware of the game-changing nature of these arms in the light of its experience in Afghanistan, where the transfer of shoulder-fired Stinger missiles by the United States had neutralised the air advantage that had been exercised by the Soviet Red Army battling the western-backed Afghan Mujahideen.
AFP is reporting that Saudi Arabia is in talks with Pakistan to provide Anza anti-aircraft missiles — its own version of a Chinese shoulder-launched system.
The Syrian opposition claims the United States, fearing that these weapons could end up with the extremists had previously opposed their exports. But Washington has apparently now softened its stance, following the perceived failure of the Geneva 2-talks between the Syrian government and the anti-Assad forces in Switzerland.
Quoting a Saudi source, the report said that Pakistan’s Army Chief of Staff, General Raheel Sharif, had visited Riyadh earlier this month, where he had met Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz.
Last week, Prince Salman had himself led a large delegation to Pakistan — the visit reinforcing the earlier visit to Islamabad by Prince Saud Al Faisal, the Saudi Foreign Minister.
The new category of weapons, once they are sent, will be stored in Jordan, Syria’s neighbouring country and a long-time Washington ally. Ahmad Jarba, the head of the Syrian opposition, has already said that “powerful arms will be arriving soon.” Observers say that the plan to upgrade weaponry follows the decision by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to support the Islamic Front — a combination of Islamist organisations that are technically not affiliated with Al Qaeda — in order to mount an offensive against Mr. Assad.