Last updated: 9 August, 2013

Kremlin denies Putin and Saudi spy chief discussed Syria deal

The Kremlin denied Friday that President Vladimir Putin had discussed a deal with the visiting Saudi intelligence chief for Moscow to sell arms to Riyadh in exchange for changing its position on Syria.

Putin held talks with in Moscow with Saudi Arabia’s influential intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan on July 31, in a meeting which was not announced in advance and has intrigued observers.

“Concrete questions about military cooperation were not discussed,” said Putin’s top foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov, quoted by Russian news agencies.

“Putin did not discuss deals.”

Saudi Arabia has been strongly supportive of the rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. But Russia, to the fury of Riyadh and its Western allies, has refused to cut its cooperation with the Damascus regime.

Diplomats in the Middle East have said that Putin rejected a proposal from Prince Bandar for Moscow to abandon its support for Assad in exchange for a huge arms deal.

Bandar proposed that Saudi Arabia buy $15 billion (11 billion euros) of weapons from Russia, diplomatic sources told AFP in Beirut earlier this week.

Ushakov gave few details on the content of the talks but said the two sides “made clear the positions which our countries have on the Syrian question”.

“There was a shared concern about the situation which is being created in the (Middle East) region and the worrying tendencies that are being observed,” said Ushakov.

“It was a very substantive conversation, and had a philosophical character,” he added.

Prince Bandar, who was formerly ambassador to the United States, also serves as secretary general of Saudi Arabia’s National Security Council.

Widely regarded as among the most influential powerbrokers in the entire Middle East, Prince Bandar is the son of the late crown prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, who died in 2011.

An Arab diplomat with contacts in Moscow said: “President Putin listened politely to his interlocutor and let him know that his country would not change its strategy.”