Towards a Stable Relationship
King Salman arrived in Moscow on Wednesday, for the first ever visit of a reigning Saudi monarch to Russia.
"This is the first visit of the King of Saudi Arabia to Russia in the history of our relations, which in itself is a very significant event. Our relations have a fairly lengthy history," Russian President Vladimir Putin said during a meeting with the king.
In addition, the Russian president described the talks with King Salman as "very substantive, informative and very trusting."
According to Grigoriy Kosach, Moscow-based professor and specialist in modern Eastern studies, Russian-Saudi relations have seen numerous upturns and downturns and this visit gives hope that they will stabilize and continue to develop.
"The visit of the Saudi delegation to Moscow indicates that Riyadh is interested in developing ties with Moscow. Saudi Arabia needs Russia," Leonid Savin, an analyst with the Center for Geopolitical Expert Studies, told RT.
According to the expert, the Syrian crisis was the key political issue on the agenda of the talks. Riyadh has supported Syrian opposition groups in the ongoing conflict; however King Salman said that his vision of the Syrian settlement coincides with the position of Moscow.
"As far as the Syrian crisis is concerned, we seek its termination in accordance with the Geneva-1 decisions and UN Security Council Resolution 2254. [We want] to reach a political settlement that would guarantee security, stability and Syria’s territorial integrity," King Salman said.
According to Kosach, differences between Moscow and Riyadh on the situation in Syria remain. First and foremost this regards Russia’s cooperation with Iran, which is of great concern to Saudi Arabia. At the same time, Savin pointed out that Riyadh’s support for the Astana negotiating process indicates a bilateral rapprochement on the issue.
The political agenda of the talks also included the situation in Qatar, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, the Israeli-Palestine settlement as well as the state of affairs in the Middle East as a whole, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference.
Lavrov and his Saudi counterpart Adel Jubeir reiterated their commitment to dialogue in the resolution of those problems.
According to Savin, what is especially important is the fact that Russia is staying neutral in the ongoing crisis between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
"Moscow could play the role of mediator in the Qatar crisis," the expert suggested.
Counterterrorism cooperation was also highlighted during the talks in Moscow.
"In considering all issues of this region, a general understanding that fighting terrorism is a priority has emerged," Lavrov said after the talks.
"Saudi Arabia now cannot ignore the ongoing changes in the Middle East. The geopolitical environment is changing and the role of the United States is becoming different," Savin said.
US exclusion in middle east & Pakistan is growing by Saudi visit to Russia. Trump can't afford it.— Shadab Peerzada (@peerShadab) 6 октября 2017 г.
Earlier, Vladimir Putin said that despite the fact that the US continue to remain the main partner for Saudi Arabia, there is a scope for future cooperation between Moscow and Riyadh.
"Everything changes. We have differences [with Saudi Arabia], but Russia’s advantage is that we never play a double game with anyone," the Russian president said at the Russian Energy Week forum.
S-400 and Other Weapons
According to Savin, military and technical cooperation gives Saudi Arabia the opportunity to diversify its foreign policy and at the same time have economic benefits.
Prior to the talks, Russian daily Kommersant reported citing sources that discussions had taken place between Riyadh and Moscow on the possible delivery of the Russian S-400 air and missile defense system.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin confirmed that Saudi Arabia is interested in a deal.
"Of course, they’re interested. An S-400 deal is being discussed but this discussion is not official so far," Rogozin said.
Meanwhile, some media outlets, including Al-Arabiya, have reported that Saudi Arabia has already agreed to purchase the systems.
"Moreover, Russian weapons are known for their high quality standards and they are less expensive than their US-made analogues," the expert noted.
The Saudi Military Industries Corporation and Russia’s Rosoboronexport also signed a memorandum on the delivery and localization of military equipment and reached an agreement on the local production of the AK-103 rifle and different types of ammunition in Saudi Arabia.
Moreover, Lavrov said that there is now a deal between Moscow and Riyadh to establish a military and technical cooperation commission. The commission is expected to start working by the end of the year.
Oil and Gas Cooperation
Cooperation in the oil market was also an important issue on agenda.
Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih pointed out the positive contributions by both Riyadh and Moscow in stabilizing the global crude market. However, according to the minister, the problem has not been resolved yet.
Oil prices rose about 2 percent on Thursday as signs Saudi Arabia and Russia would limit production— Ventura Commodities (@commodityvc) 6 октября 2017 г.
In turn, Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser discussed investment and energy cooperation with his Russian colleagues during the visit.
In particular, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Rosneft and Gazprom Neft are ready to reach an agreement with Saudi Aramco and establish a joint research and development facility. Russia’s Novatek discussed their possible participation in a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project with Saudi investors. Moreover, Sibur will launch a joint gas chemical facility in Saudi Arabia.
Nuclear Energy, Space Exploration and More
One of the main goals of the current Saudi leadership is to diversify the national economy, including abandoning its dependence on oil. Last year, Riyadh adopted the Vision 2030 plan which stipulates the development of advanced technologies and the creation of an innovative industrial sector in the country.
During the Moscow talks, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) signed a $1 billion technology investment deal.
In addition, Rosatom and the Saudi Energy Ministry signed a cooperation deal in nuclear energy. Riyadh is considering building several nuclear power plants in the country and Russia seems a likely partner to work with.
Riyadh and Moscow will also cooperate on the expansion of railway services in Saudi Arabia.
According to Kosach, the development of bilateral economic cooperation will help stabilize political cooperation as well. He noted that despite numerous political differences, Saudi Arabia and China are strategic economic partners and run numerous joint projects.
"Saudi Arabia wants to develop economic relations and use them to iron out political controversies. I think that when it comes to relations with Moscow, Riyadh wants to use the model of its cooperation with Beijing," the expert concluded.