A New Launching for Russian Saudi Relations

05.10.2017

King Salman's visit to Moscow is his second, as he visited Russia in 2006 when he was the prince of Riyadh. His current visit is highly important and considered a turning point in Russian-Saudi relations which were full of tensions and contradictions, particularly in the last few years. It is the first ever visit to Russia for a Saudi King. It is not flashy, a four-day visit reflects a Saudi real intention to resolve the thorny issues between the two countries. The huge delegation accompanying the King, especially investors and businessmen, indicates a genuine desire to develop mutual cooperation. In this context, the visit may lead to a breakthrough in the relations between Moscow and Riyadh, help to melt the ice that has covered their relationship for years. Several factors support that argument.

First, Saudi Arabia has finally started to give up the "dogma" that dominated its foreign policy and to pursue a more pragmatic approach. It realized the gravity of counting only on the United States, and putting "all its eggs in the American basket." Riyadh has clearly understood the lesson, and how it is not safe enough to rely on absolute partnership with Washington. There are repeatedly congressional hearings in the American Congress on the progress of Saudi policy in fight terrorism. In a way that indicate a desire from some in the Congress to charge Riyadh of supporting terrorism, and embarrass President Trump who has declared his explicit alliance and support to the Kingdom during Riyadh summit.

Second, Riyadh realized that Russia is an influential international player in the region and that important regional arrangements are being led by Moscow in cooperation with Iran, the traditional Saudi rival, and Turkey. These arrangements may be marginalized Saudi role at a time when Riyadh is seeking to become a leading regional player. Riyadh found itself forced to reach some understanding with Russia and put its interests on the Russian table or it will find itself outside the regional scene. Saudi Arabia seeks to prevent Iran from dominating absolute influence on Russia, from Saudi point of view. It aims also to balance Qatari growing influence in Russia, at a time when Riyadh's relations with Doha are strained.

On the other hand, Moscow needs understandings with Saudi Arabia so that it can push forward both Astana and Geneva negotiations for settlements in Syria. Riyadh has strong ties and influence on a number of armed groups inside Syria, as well as on the Riyadh platform for Syrian oppositions, one of the three platforms alongside Moscow and Cairo.

Third, at a time when the Crown Prince is seeking to modernize the Saudi economy by reducing dependence on oil and building a modern production structure, as outlined in his strategy for the Kingdom of 2030, he seems in need to Russian technology in different fields and technical cooperation with Moscow.

Russia is also caring to maintain the understandings that began with Riyadh in Vienna in November 2016 concerning oil production and prices. Reducing the volume of oil production has helped to improve prices, which was raised by 16%. Moscow is also seeking to attract Saudi investments. The visit is certainly a reassurance to Saudi businessmen and investors, and a strong green light for them to move towards Russia. It has already been agreed to establish two funds, the first with a value of 10 billion dollars, and the second with Saudi contribution by one billion dollars earmarked for investment in oil sector. Joint ventures between the two sides will be crystallized during the Russian-Saudi Investment Forum, which held before the summit on Thursday with the participation of 200 Russian and Saudi companies.

The Saudi policy is witnessing an unprecedented transition, which represents an opportunity to reshape the relation between Moscow and Riyadh, moving it to technical economic cooperation and strategic understanding that help achieving security and stability in the Middle East.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

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