The Russians and Arabia—Marginal Success
Soviet interest in the Arabian Peninsula naturally focuses on Saudi Arabia, the largest, most powerful and wealthiest (though not the most populous) of the eight states that are now recognised as independent political entities. It is also the home of Islam and custodian of its most sacred sites, each year the goal of millions of pilgrims who visit them. Oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia only in 1938. The Soviets were originally attracted to the Peninsula not because of oil but because it represented a relative power vacuum astride the British lifeline to the east. The British favoured the Hashemites at the end of World War II. The Soviets established diplomatic relations with the Hashemite King Hussein of the Hejaz in 1924. When Ibn Saud, leader of the Wahhabis, captured Mecca and then Jeddah, Medina and Yanbu in 1925, the Soviet Foreign Ministry feared a setback but the Comintern was more optimistic—it appreciated Ibn Saud and the Imam Yahya in nearby Yemen as independent Arab leaders opposed to British influence. The Soviet Union was the first country to recognise Ibn Saud’s supremacy in Hejaz in February 1926. A Tatar, Karim Khakimov, was sent to head the Soviet legation and a delegation of Soviet Muslims was sent to attend the Congress of Mecca which Ibn Saud convened to ratify his claim to the holy cities.1
KeywordsSaudi Arabia Arabian Peninsula Arab World Diplomatic Relation Soviet Policy
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