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Saudi pragmatism

Oct 03,2017 - Last updated at Oct 03,2017

bit of history will be made this week when King Salman arrives in Moscow on a four-day official visit, the first by a Saudi monarch in almost a century of diplomatic relations.

Preparations for the historic visit have been in the making for many months, and the fact that King Salman and President Vladimir Putin will witness the signing of a number of economic and political agreements — including strategic energy, security and counter-terrorism deals — indicates that this will be much more than a cordial event.

Riyadh’s recent overtures to Moscow underlines a new diplomatic approach by Saudi Arabia towards regional and international issues, one that is rooted in pragmatism and realism.

Historically, Saudi Arabia and the former Soviet Union were at odds on almost every regional conflict, especially at the height of the Cold War.

In a deeply polarised world, Riyadh chose to side with the West, the US in particular, which supported monarchic regimes across the volatile Middle East.

Moscow had backed military coups that sought to build left-leaning, including Marxist-based, republics in various parts of the region especially during the 1950s and ‘60s. Moscow’s communist ideals had become an anathema to regional conservative monarchies.

The two countries found themselves on opposite sides following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan and Moscow’s decade-long occupation of that country. 

Diplomatic relations were restored in 1992, after a five-decade hiatus, but Riyadh and Moscow found little common ground.

Political differences had narrowed down, but the two sides clashed over oil and gas production. Russia had become a major exporter of both, and not being a member of OPEC meant that it could affect global prices through mass production.

It was not until the beginning of the new millennium that a different Russian role in international fora began to emerge under Putin’s strong leadership. By that time, the region had gone through a major transformation.

The US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, following the September 11 terrorist attacks, had sent tremors across the Middle East. Its reverberations continue to shake the region today.

By that time Moscow had reclaimed a leading role in international relations, and the conflicts gripping the Arab world in the wake of the Arab Spring, in particular the Syrian civil war, gave it the opportunity to step in.

The late King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz had the foresight to sense a change in US Middle Eastern policy under former US president Barack Obama. The latter was seen as having abandoned America’s traditional allies, Egypt being a clear example, and had no clear policy on Syria and others.

While Riyadh continued to safeguard its strategic alliance with Washington, King Abdullah realised the need to seek warmer ties with Moscow. That pragmatic approach in Saudi foreign policy continued under King Salman. 

The then-deputy crown prince and defence minister, Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, paid a high-profile visit to Russia in June 2015, a visit that marked a reset in Saudi-Russian ties.

A number of deals were signed during the St Petersburg meeting, the most important an agreement allowing Russian investments in Saudi Arabia’s ambitious nuclear energy plans.

But aside from these important deals, Prince Mohammad and Putin were able to lay the ground for close coordination between OPEC and Russia in the sensitive and highly unstable oil production market.

It is believed that this cooperation resulted in a more steady oil market and prevented further drops in prices.

In addition to fostering bilateral relations — Moscow sees huge investment opportunities in the Saudi market, especially under Vision 2030 — King Salman and Putin will focus on regional issues that represent a challenge to both.

During a visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Riyadh in September, it was announced that Saudi Arabia now supports the Astana technical talks and the de-escalation zones in Syria.

The two countries had conflicting visions on Syria, but are now working to create common ground.

Riyadh is playing an important role in unifying the Syrian opposition with the aim of adopting a more pragmatic position in political negotiations, which both Saudi Arabia and Russia see as the only way to end the conflict.

It is in this area that the Kremlin sees Riyadh’s value and role to end the war in Syria.

King Salman and Putin will be discussing Iran, where both sides have a different take on its role, especially in Syria but also in Yemen, where Riyadh accuses Tehran of backing a Houthi insurgency against the legitimate government.

Other issues of mutual interest include the crisis with Qatar, where Russia had offered to mediate, the latest Kurdistan referendum and the Middle East peace process.

The historic visit will strengthen bilateral relations but in addition, it will open communication channels between Riyadh and Moscow.

The latter has become a key player in the region and while Saudi Arabia’s ties with the US remain solid, the new Saudi-Russian entente will be essential towards bringing stability to a region in turmoil.

 

 

The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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Comments

THERE ARE NO RULINGS IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS BUT TREATIES AND OBLIGATIONS AND THE FOUNDAMENTAL RULES OF HUMANITY ACROSS ALL RELIGIONS AND FAITH. WHAT MORE, THAT WOMEN WERE NOT ALLOWED TO DRIVE IS AN ECONOMIC DISASTER WHICH WILL SURELY BACK-FIRE IN THE NEAR FUTURE. IT IS ALWAYS BETTER TO BE "LATE THAN THE LATE". THE KINGDOM KNEW THAT THEY HAVE TO CHANGE THIS DOCTRINE AND THEY HAVE DONE SO AND WE SHOULD ALL BE HAPPY FOR THESE WOMEN AND THEIR FAMILIES AND ENCOURAGE AND SUPPORT THE KINGDOM TO DO MORE. THIS IS A BIG DEAL AND PEOPLE ALL OVER THE WORLD ARE HAPPY THAT ONE OF THE MOST RESPECTED COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD IS RE-WRITING HISTORY LIKE MANY CHURCHES IN THE WEST HAVE COME CLEAN FROM THEIR ROLE IN SLAVE TRADE.

The Saudis are applying the ruling in international relations" There are no permanents enemies and no permanent friends as national interests are the criteria for such relationship"

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