Growing ties between Russia and Saudi Arabia…

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Saima Zaman

Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited Saudi Arabia in his first trip to the kingdom in over a decade. Moscow accrued power in the Middle East in 2015 by sending troops to Syria, where it and Iran have been key backers of President Bashar al-Assad amid civil war. The Russian president, accompanied by his energy minister and head of Russia’s wealth fund, met King Salman at his palace along with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The meeting signified strengthening relations between the two countries, who have worked together in recent years to keep oil supplies low, and thus keep prices high, but have been on opposite sides of regional conflicts.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the country’s assistant oil minister, then lead a signing ceremony for 20 agreements between the two nations, most memoranda of understanding in the fields of energy, petrochemicals, transport and artificial intelligence. Both countries have discussed developments in Syria, where Turkey recently launched a cross-border offensive, and the ongoing civil war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been fighting Houthi rebels since 2015.

The evident example of Deepening ties have seen non-OPEC Russia, once regarded as a rival in oil markets, join OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia in forming an alliance known as OPEC+ to support crude prices by restraining output. Putin’s first trip to Saudi Arabia, in February 2007, was only reciprocated by King Salman in October 2017  the first time a reigning Saudi monarch had ever made an official visit to Russia.

The warming ties that led to the exchange of visits began three years ago when Russia joined Saudi Arabia in spearheading an oil-production-cut arrangement known as OPEC+. The alignment, consisting of the 14 OPEC members and 11 non-OPEC countries, achieved its objective of increasing oil prices. Russia has emerged as a major outside player claiming to preserve its presence in the Middle East.

This new environment could not but render the existing trend in Russia Saudi Arabia relations irrelevant. Under new circumstances, Moscow and Riyadh have more capability for productive cooperation and compromise on those issues that the parties still diverge on. The chaotic clashes between Turkey and the Kurds in northern Syria have created obvious complications for Moscow. Russia had looked to disengage and hand over to the Syrian regime where possible; this development does anything but that. But more concerning is the emerging risk of a confrontation between Russia and Turkey, a NATO member. The cooperation between the both nations can be seen in different fields.

Moscow, the world’s largest wheat exporter, made some progress in accessing the Saudi and Middle Eastern markets when the kingdom agreed in August to relax specifications for wheat imports, opening the door to Black Sea imports. RDIF and Saudi Arabia’s SALIC signed an agreement to jointly search for investment projects in Russia’s agricultural sector. State owned enterprises and the private sector in both countries would make a significant effort in achieving the goals of the new agreements.

New investments are essential for the Russian economy, which continues to suffer under sanctions related to the country’s military action in Ukraine and the low price of Russian oil, a key export. It is likely that Russia will not meet its economic growth goals for 2019. The crown prince and the Russian president also chaired the inaugural meeting of the new Saudi-Russian Economic Committee, attended by high-level delegations of business and finance executives from both countries.

Later Putin held official talks with the crown prince, in which they discussed developments in Syria and Yemen, and the importance of combating extremism and terrorism and working to dry up its sources.

Putin’s visit coincides with a Pentagon announcement that it is dispatching 3000 additional troops and two squadrons of fighter jets to the Gulf kingdom in an effort to deter Iranian aggression following the drone and Cruise missile attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities last month which rattled global energy markets and added to war tensions in the Gulf.

 

Writer is the Assistant Editor ‘Mélange int’l Magazine’, ‘The Asian Telegraph’ & Project Coordinator (COPAIR); a degree holder in communication & media sciences.

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