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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Thursday, December 14, 2017

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Ties between longtime rivals Russia and Saudi soften

King Salmans visit sought to cement

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MOSCOW, Russia - In a first such visit to Russia by a Saudi Arabian monarch, King Salman met the Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday. 

Putin warmly welcomed King Salman at the Kremlin signaling a rapprochement between two longtime rivals.

King Salman’s visit sought to cement growing ties between the world’s two largest oil producers.

Over the last one year, both the nations have coordinated efforts to stabilize crude prices, lift their economies and end the war in Syria.

Since he ascended the throne in 2015, King Salman has made efforts to shift away from his country’s historical reliance on the United States and diversify its international partnerships.

Reports noted that King Salman’s visit also acknowledges Russia’s increasing clout in the Middle East, with its close ties and support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Saudi Arabia had opposed.

Faisal J. Abbas, editor in chief of Saudi Arabia’s Arab News, who was in Moscow for the visit said in a statement, “We cannot ignore that Russia has become a key player in the Middle East, particularly due to the Obama doctrine that saw the U.S. role in the region shrink. Russia, with its financial and military might, stepped into the equation.”

The visit also comes at a crucial time for the Kingdom, that is recalibrating its foreign relations and makes domestic reforms that could alter its socially conservative society. 

Grigory Kosach, expert for the Russian International Affairs Council said, “Definitely, Russia’s operation in Syria put Moscow into the front line of Middle Eastern politics. Saudi Arabia believes that they now have to build relations with Russia because it plays a significant role in their home region. However, Russia is acting there in tandem with Iran, which worries the Saudis.”

Meanwhile, Marianna Belenkaya, a Middle East analyst, said in a commentary for the Carnegie Moscow Center, “This deal has opened a new page in the Russian-Saudi relations. Both sides saw that dialogue is possible.”

Analysts believe that while agreements with Russia may not directly affect the kingdom’s interactions with Washington, they could give Russia leverage to interfere.

Firas Maksad, the deputy executive director of the Arabia Foundation in Washington said, “American preferred access to Saudi oil, and the two countries’ close cooperation, has been the bedrock of the American-Saudi relationship since its inception, which in turn has been a pillar of U.S. strategy in the Middle East. Putin now has a greater ability to influence, and potentially disrupt, that relationship than ever before.”

Putin has hinted at the same when asked about the United States-Saudi alliance during an economic forum in Moscow this week.

He said, “Is there anything permanent in the world? I think, on the contrary, the world is changing all the time.”

Previous efforts toward rapprochement between the two nations have foundered.

During the meeting on Thursday, the two countries agreed to move toward deeper cooperation on space programs, weapons deals and other issues.

Russia and Saudi Arabia also signed an agreement to create a $1 billion joint investment fund. 

They announced a plan to manufacture Russia’s famous Kalashnikov rifles in the kingdom as part of its budding military industry.

Theodore Karasik, senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics, a Washington-based consultancy said, “The idea that Russia and Saudi are working together to rework the region across a spectrum of issues can be an American interest, but there needs to be an awakening of what the true relationship is between the Russian Federation and the countries of the Middle East.”

 

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