Saudi Arabia and Russia take relationship to ‘new level’

October 08, 2017
Turning point. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (C) exchanges documents with Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih as Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) applauds during a signing ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, on October 5. (AFP)

London- Saudi King Salman bin Ab­dulaziz Al Saud’s historic visit to Russia was capped with multibillion-dollar agreements in energy and arms in what was considered a sig­nificant turning point in bilateral relations.
King Salman’s trip to Moscow, the first visit by a Saudi monarch to Russia, continued Riyadh’s at­tempts to expand its network be­yond its traditional allies, such as the United States. There has been a perceived lack of engagement from Washington in recent years, although efforts by the Trump ad­ministration have somewhat eased those concerns.
Russia President Vladimir Pu­tin welcomed the king’s visit as a “landmark event” that would improve bilateral ties. King Sal­man said the visit was intended to strengthen ties with Russia “in the interests of peace, security and de­velopment of the world economy.”
The government-regulated Sau­di media reported on the visit ex­tensively but mostly ignored the historically rocky relationship be­tween the two countries. The Sau­di-owned pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat carried an interview with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who called King Salman’s visit a “real turning point” in rela­tions that would take cooperation between the two energy heavy­weights to a “completely new lev­el.”
Cooperation on energy and busi­ness ventures was expected but the meeting allowed the delega­tions of the two countries to dis­cuss issues on which they were not entirely in agreement. Saudi Ara­bia and Russia support opposite sides in the Syrian civil war and Ri­yadh was displeased with Russia’s intervention to save the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
During a news conference with Lavrov, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the kingdom and Russia agreed on the need to preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and state institutions and high­lighted efforts to unify the Syrian opposition to find a political solu­tion to the conflict.
Among the deals announced in Moscow was Riyadh’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defence system. Also, a memorandum of under­standing was signed to have Russia help Saudi Arabia develop its own domestic military industry.
Saudi Arabia has traditionally looked to the United States and the United Kingdom for its military supplies but with the tenuous se­curity situation in the Gulf, Riyadh has increased military spending and sought alternative suppliers such as Russia and China.
Writing in the Russian daily newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Yuri Barmin, an expert on Russian Middle East policy, said it was im­portant for Russia to “maintain the image of a key player in the Middle East and relations with Saudi Ara­bia play a key role.”
“Americans have started with­drawing from the Middle East… Iran has begun to play a more im­portant role… With these two fac­tors combined Saudi Arabia has come to understand that nobody except Russia may help to balance Iran,” wrote Barmin, adding that Moscow has indirect levers of in­fluence on Tehran.
While in Moscow, King Salman said Iran must “stop meddling in internal affairs of the countries of the region and halt its activi­ties to destabilise the situation in the region.”
After several years of fighting over energy-related market share, which, coupled with international sanctions, almost crippled the Russian rouble, both countries agreed to extend oil production cuts to next year, leading to a 2% spike in global oil prices.
King Salman also invited Putin to visit Saudi Arabia.

“Your majesty, thank you very much. Thank you for the invita­tion. I remember my previous trip to your country and I will certainly take up your invitation to visit Saudi Arabia again,” Putin said, the state news agency RIA Novosti reported.