Renewed momentum in Russia-Gulf ties promises strong dividends

Ties with Russia are no longer viewed exclusively through the prism of the enduring partnership with the United States, which remains critical for the Arab Gulf.

Saturday 19/10/2019
Aircrafts leave trails in colours of Russian flag during a visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, October 15. (Reuters)
Aircrafts leave trails in colours of Russian flag during a visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, October 15. (Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s successful visits to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates reaffirmed the transformational discourse under way between Moscow and the Arab Gulf.

In Abu Dhabi, Putin’s meetings with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan renewed the momentum in Russian-UAE ties.

Relations with Russia are no longer viewed exclusively through the prism of the enduring partnership with the United States, which remains critical for the Arab Gulf. The constraints of the Cold War have disappeared and, as it reasserts itself on the global stage, Russia does so with the confidence that it is not easily ignored.

The region’s tensions with Iran over its activities and Moscow’s role in Syria have emphasised a need to strategically engage Russia. For Russia, too, the Arab Gulf is not viewed wholly in the context of its rivalry with the United States or by a purely security-driven calculus. This has allowed both sides to be more creative and open to each other. Defence cooperation and trade figured in the equation but not centrally.

Moving beyond oil markets, Arab Gulf and Russian counterparts are building new stakes in their bilateral relationships. Saudi Arabia and Russia signed about 20 agreements worth more than $2 billion.

The flagship deal involves the Saudi Arabian Basic Industries Corporation — SABIC — one of the world’s largest petrochemicals company, teaming with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) to build a methanol plant in Russia. The RDIF is also to work with the Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Company to identify investment opportunities in Russia’s agricultural sector, which has considerable potential to develop.

The Saudi Vision 2030 plan provided an opportunity to identify synergies and harmonise strategic development plans.

In Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates and Russia concluded six agreements focusing on expanding joint investments and technical cooperation. Investments worth $1.3 billion are to be led by Mubadala, Abu Dhabi’s strategic investment company, and the RDIF.

Russia has also secured a 5% in the ultra-sour Ghasha gas field for around $200 million, marking the first time it will be involved in the Emirates’ upstream activities.

Expanding ties and cooperation across the broad range of areas noted, with a particular emphasis on trade promotion and joint investments, reflects a convergence between Russian and Arab Gulf counterparts.

Russia’s role in regional affairs and crises is likely to grow in a way that adds stability rather than intensifies competition, promising dividends for all.

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