After four years of global fallout from the assassination of the Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Prince Mohammed’s security aides in Istanbul, the heir to the Saudi throne is in the midst of a global comeback. His attempts to position the kingdom as a regional power and global mover are among the 37-year-old’s core goals. Saudi officials have not condemned Putin’s invasion, and nor has Moscow weighed into Saudi Arabia’s invasion of Yemen over the past five years – a war that has left its neighbour impoverished and in ongoing need of significant aid.
NGOs warned this week that the non-renewal of a ceasefire in Yemen would exacerbate the suffering of millions. Widespread destruction and humanitarian suffering in Ukraine, meanwhile, have not been a focus of Saudi discourse. Prince Mohammed seems unperturbed by Putin’s recommitment to blood and soil nationalism and a bid to reclaim the lost glories of the Soviet Union. There have, in fact, been frequent signs that he would like to emulate the veteran Russian tyrant, with a blood and oil nationalism of his own.
In 2016, when Prince Mohammed was still deputy defence minister, the then 30-year-old summoned British diplomats, among them senior MI6 officers, to Riyadh. The sole purpose of the meeting was to seek the UK’s advice on how to deal with Putin.
“He was fascinated by him,” one of the Britons told the Observer several years later. “He seemed to admire him. He liked what he did.”
In the years since, Prince Mohammed has come to emulate the man he studied. His crackdown on dissent has strong echoes of the Russian leader and so does the nascent emergence of a Saudi police state – built on Arab nationalist foundations and secured by controlling dissenters, co-opting oligarchs and consolidating a power base.
Both men have been further united in recent months by their dislike of Biden, whose administration has led the push to arm the Ukrainian military and forced the Russian army into a series of humiliating retreats. Biden had also led the push to sideline Prince Mohammed, who had taken pleasure in a US leader traveling to Jeddah with cap in hand and leaving empty-handed. [Continue reading…]