Military, energy deals crown first visit by Saudi king to Russia
London- Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud completed a successful state visit to Moscow, hailed by both sides as a turning point in bilateral relations that could affect regional politics and the world’s energy markets.
The visit was the first by a Saudi monarch to Russia and is in line with the kingdom’s new assertive foreign policy designed to strengthen relations with traditional allies and explore opportunities with potential new partners. The shift follows a perceived lack of engagement from Washington in recent years, despite ties improving between the two countries under the Trump administration.
King Salman, joined by a delegation of Saudi officials and businessmen, signed several economic and military agreements with the Russian Federation, which is going through an economic downturn because of US-led Western sanctions and low oil prices.
Riyadh agreed to the purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defence system. A memorandum of understanding aimed at helping Saudi Arabia develop its domestic military industry was also signed. The air defence system, Russian media reported, is worth $3 billion and the sale is to be finalised at a World Trade Organisation meeting this month.
An agreement to establish a $1 billion energy investment fund between the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF), oil giant Aramco and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) was also finalised during the king’s trip.
No political breakthroughs were made on Syria, however. Riyadh and Moscow support opposing sides in the country’s conflict. Both countries did agree on the need to preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and state institutions and both are to address unifying the fragmented Syrian opposition in preparation for the next round of peace negotiations.
As the Saudi king’s visit to Russia was winding down, US officials announced that the sale of a THAAD anti-missile defence system, worth an estimated $15 billion, to Saudi Arabia had been approved.
“This sale furthers US national security and foreign policy interests and supports the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian and other regional threats,” a statement by the Pentagon’s Defence Security Cooperation Agency said.
THAAD, which can detect threats 1,200km away, is designed to intercept long-range missiles before or in the early phase of re-entry. The potential sale to Riyadh is considered a defensive move against Iranian missile development. The S-400 system can more effectively defend against attacking aircraft and other weaponry, including ballistic and cruise missiles, inside 400km.
Iran and its proxy groups, such as Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi militia, are seen in most of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as the biggest regional threat, with efforts in traditional diplomacy failing to yield significant results.
After Tehran struck a nuclear deal with world powers, Riyadh adjusted its strategy for countering its efforts by expanding its influence in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The war in Yemen is an attempt to restore the country’s legitimate government, which was ousted by the Iran-backed Houthi militants.
Reaffirming his commitment to regional security, King Salman, during his Moscow visit, said that Iran must “stop meddling in internal affairs of the countries in the region and halt its activities to destabilise the situation in the region.”