Military, energy deals crown first visit by Saudi king to Russia

October 08, 2017
New chapter. Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud attend a welcoming ceremony ahead of their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow, on October 5. (AFP)

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.”