The Guardian

Can Saudi Arabia's ‘great reformer’ survive the death in the consulate?

The disappearance in Turkey of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has shaken confidence in Riyadh even among close allies
Vladimir Putin with Mohammed bin Salman in May 2017. Photograph: Pavel Golovkin/AFP/Getty

In early 2016, when Mohammed bin Salman was still deputy crown prince and Donald Trump still a contender for US president, the then 30-year-old Saudi summoned senior British officials to Riyadh to see him. He had one thing on his mind, said two of the officials present that day – how to deal with Vladimir Putin.

The Russian president’s role in the Middle East had suddenly expanded and his footprint throughout Europe and the US was growing just as rapidly. The young prince seemed curious about what the mercurial Putin had been up to: annexation, intimidation, deflection, the denial of objective facts. But he kept coming back to one question, the officials recalled: how does he get away with it? “He was fascinated. “He seemed to admire him. He liked what he did.” Two years later Prince Mohammed is embroiled in a crisis unlike any other in his short, combustible time as the world’s most powerful thirtysomething. The crown prince stands accused of ordering the brutal death of a prominent critic on foreign soil – a state-sanctioned hit that is without precedent in the kingdom’s modern history, but is not quite so unknown in Russia.

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