A much-hyped “historic” visit to Moscow by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud could end long time rivalry over oil and Syria and point to a path of unprecedented cooperation for the two traditional rivals.
- Investment worth billions of dollars in arms and energy deals as the key U.S. ally seeks to deepen cooperation with Moscow as first visit by Salman to Russia as King marks unexpected rapprochement between the two nations.
- Oil, weapons and a security deal on Syria on the table Moscow’s as U.S. President Donald Trump’s unpredictable policy shifts force rivals to work together.
- Two oil superpowers produce a quarter of the world’s crude between them.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry hailed the first visit ever of King Salman and the first official trip to Russia by a reigning Saudi monarch, seeing it as the coming together of the leaders of the world’s largest energy exporters and suggesting an unlikely alliance for these historical rivals.
But much else lies in the balance and a sophisticated set of changing motives and threats are changing the landscape for international cooperation in the Middle East.
Meeting with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia pic.twitter.com/xqQ3g3uIGr
— Dmitry Medvedev (@MedvedevRussiaE) October 6, 2017
“This is the first visit by a Saudi Arabian monarch in the history of our relations and that in itself is a landmark event,” Putin said as he welcomed King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to Moscow.
“I’m sure your visit will boost the ties between our countries,” Putin added from the expensively opulent Kremlin reception hall where the King was officially greeted.
“We aim to strengthen our relations in the interests of peace and security, in the interests of developing the world economy,” the Saudi king responded as Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told journalists that “relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia have reached a historic moment.”
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said agreements came in the fields of “energy – not only traditional but also nuclear power – and also in cooperation in space exploration (and) agroindustry and infrastructure projects.”
“Our main hope is that the visit will give a new, powerful impetus to the development of bilateral ties, because the potential of our ties is much richer than the de-facto situation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov added.
Russia/Saudis sign oil, weapons deals.
absence of strong US regional policy + aggressive Russian stance = everyone now turns to Moscow https://t.co/qMZvLq5t2N
— Molly McKew (@MollyMcKew) October 5, 2017
However, the official pomp and ceremony betrayed its real intentions as a day later a packet of deals on energy, trade and defense were signed, amounting to several billion dollars worth of joint Russia-Saudi investment.
In addition, it is believed Saudi Arabia agreed to purchase Russia’s S-400 air defense system, making it the 2nd U.S. ally to buy the Russian-made system behind Turkey.
For Russia,there are billions of dollars of deals, economic stability and international security in the balance as well as dissatisfaction with both the Obama and Trump administrations.
Both Russia and Saudi Arabia are heavily dependent on oil exports and were economically hit hard by the global plunge of the price of crude oil that occurred in 2014 where oil price collapsed from above $100 a barrel.
Therefore we can view the sudden keenness to ally within the context of two countries looking for a solution to stabilize oil prices and invest in a mutually beneficial solution.
— Christopher Johnson (@chris1reuters) October 12, 2017
“We strive to continue the positive cooperation between our countries to achieve stability on world oil markets which promotes the growth of the world’s economy,” King Salman said.
Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak used the occasion to praise Saudi producer Aramco’s interest in varied energy projects including the production of liquefied natural gas in the Arctic circle.
“Our cooperation with Saudi Arabia has been at a top-flight level,” Novak stated.
— CIC Saudi Arabia (@CICSaudi) October 3, 2017
Dissatisfaction with the United States
In the context of international diplomacy, the unification of Saudi Arabia and Russia has many implications and repercussions for the Middle East and the United States.
Long term US ally Saudi Arabia is looking to diversify international partnerships after unhappiness with the isolationist United States and dissatisfaction with the US position on Middle East conflicts by both Obama and Trump’s administrations.
Saudi Arabia king's golden escalator stairs got stuck coming out of his airplane into Moscow in Russia yesterday. pic.twitter.com/xGKYtSvEUs
— Anna Massoglia (@annalecta) October 5, 2017
In addition, the lack of support Saudi Arabia has received for the present Gulf crisis with Qatar has forced the kingdom to seek support from less likely sources with Russia emerging as the key power broker in the Middle East now.
New Russian Diplomacy
As part of a new phase of positive diplomacy, Russia is positioning itself as the direct mediator to crises in the Middle East, supplanting both the United Nations and the United States.
By strongly supporting dialogue and actively seeking resolutions in Syria in place of an impotent US administration sending confusing messages on its involvement in world affairs, Russia is growing on the global stage at a frightening rate.
Saudi Arabia, Russia and Syria
As part of the new agreement, the Russians are converting Saudi opinion to their position that there is no replacement for Assad right now, and that he should remain for a transition process to avoid another ISIS-style movement rising up in the power vacuum left by his removal.
Relations between the two countries had became strained as a result of the Syrian Civil War, in which Russia supports Syria′s Assad while Saudi Arabia supports the Syrian rebels factions but Russia′s influence in the Middle East grew following successful military operations in Syria.
— Military Advisor (@miladvisor) October 4, 2017
Of course there are a multitude of other implications and nuances effected by such a notable bringing together of interests, with many commentators suggesting that King Salman is looking for international support for his son’s succession and contributing to motivation for the official trip.
With key international players such as the US and the UK currently weak and unwilling or unable to distract themselves with affairs in the Middle East, it seems that Russia is more than happy to fill the void.
Photo credit: Flickr