Saudi Arabia Said to Oppose Qatar S-400 Deal

Saudi Arabia is said to oppose Russia’s proposed sale of the S-400 surface-to-air missile system to Qatar.

On June 1, 2018, Le Monde reported that Saudi Arabia had petitioned the French government to put pressure on Qatar not to procure the Russian-made S-400 for its military. According to Le Monde, Riyadh indicated it was willing to take “military action” against Qatar in the event it purchases the S-400.

It can be assumed that Riyadh has reached out to Washington to intervene on the matter as well.

Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia have expressed at least nominal interest in procuring the S-400 from Russia. For Doha, the addition of the S-400 for air-defense would follow its recent acquisition of SY-400 of short-range ballistic missiles from China. Whereas the SY-400 allows Qatar to target key infrastructure and other sites, the S-400 will enable it to secure its airspace. Doha has recently accused its neighbors of violating its airspace amid a diplomatic spat that erupted last year, demonstrating Qatar’s interest in acquiring defensive systems.

According to Russian lawmaker Aleksei Kondratyev, Russia will not let Saudi opposition prevent a sale to Qatar. Kondratyev said, “Russia seeks its own interest, supplying S-400 to Qatar and earning money for the state budget. Saudi Arabia’s position has nothing to do with it, Russia’s plans will not change.

Saudi Arabia may well be interested in procuring the S-400 as well, though its record of arms negotiations with Russia suggests that Riyadh may also be using the S-400 discussions to influence Russia or other countries.

The two countries continue to negotiate on the S-400 but to date have not signed a binding contract. On previous arms deals, Saudi Arabia “played” Moscow, according to Rostec CEO Sergei Chemezov, dangling a massive arms deal in exchange for Russia stopping the sale of the S-300 to Iran.

In other words, Saudi Arabia’s professed interest in the S-400 could well be an effort to get Russia to drop the S-400 sale to Qatar. Alternatively (or additionally), Riyadh could well be vocally indicating its own interest in the S-400 as a means to pressure the U.S. into convincing Qatar to abandon the S-400 purchase.

Several other reasons for the Saudi government to negotiate for the S-400 include

  • Iran.  Saudi Arabia may seek to leverage Russia’s relationship with Iran to get Moscow to rein in what Saudi Arabia sees as destabilizing Iranian activity in the Middle East.
  • THAAD.  Concurrent with its negotiations for the S-400, Saudi Arabia has sought to purchase the U.S.’ THAAD missile system. Riyadh was approved for purchase of THAAD in October 2017.

About Derek Bisaccio

Military markets analyst, covering Eurasia, Middle East, and Africa.

View all posts by Derek Bisaccio →