Putin arrived in Saudi Arabia this week, which was his second visit to the country after his 2007 trip. Russia defends Iran, helps Bashar Assad fight terrorists in Syria, but criticizes Saudi Arabia’s bloody war in Yemen.
The signs are clear that Riyadh remains firmly in the orbit of Washington’s influence, at least when it comes to security and defense. But Moscow doesn’t seem to hold it against Riyadh – in fact, relations with the Saudis have never been better.
Putin has been seen chatting cordially with Saudi Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman at international meetings, and has spoken about his personal rapport with both MBS and with the Saudi king himself.
He also described Russia’s cooperation with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which, according to last year’s estimates, holds 79.4% of the world’s proven oil reserves, with Saudi Arabia its largest producer. Russia shares its OPEC+ partners’ intent to keep the oil market stable.
At the same time, Moscow is an ally of America’s public enemy number one: Iran. Saudi Arabia has blamed the regime in Tehran for strikes on two of its oil facilities last month, and hosts US troops on its soil to deter any supposed Iranian aggression.
Riyadh is embroiled in a devastating military conflict against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, and is on the opposite side to Moscow in the Syrian proxy war, where the Saudis arm anti-government rebel militias, while the Russians help defend the elected government of Bashar al-Assad.
Yet bizarrely, Russia enjoys better relations with Saudi Arabia now than it did two decades ago, when Putin inherited a country wracked by economic crises and too focused on its own problems to take a decisive role on the world stage.
Russia’s footprint in the Middle East is evidently growing, and the Saudis are recognizing the opportunity to align with a new major player.
Apart from oil and gas cooperation lots of countries there are considering Russian weaponry sales, but it’s way too early to seriously talk about Saudi Arabia buying S-400’s.
Buying Russian air defense systems would require replacing the Saudis’ entire current, US-made air defense complex, with Russian equivalents.
Experts agree that Russia, being a friend to just about everyone in the Middle East, is in a perfect position to mediate the daggers-drawn situation between Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.
But Putin has just ruled out the “unrewarding” role of middleman, preferring not to wade into regional politics where they don’t directly impact Russia and its opportunities.
The amicable dealings between Moscow and Riyadh could be baffling for a casual observer, especially if compared to Washington’s habit of choking off dissenting positions with economic pressure.
Moscow manages, without much apparent effort, to enjoy warm relations with both Israel and Iran, despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s continually labeling Iran a nuclear threat and the latter’s calls for the annihilation of the Jewish state.
RT. com / ABC Flash Point News 2019.