Despite the obvious differences in positions on regional conflicts in the Middle East, Russia has long been trying to lure Saudi Arabia - the "US faithful ally" - to its side, and the current meeting between Vladimir Putin and the Saudi king took place at the right time.
For the first time in a long time, Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Saudi Arabia.
The main topic of the conversation between the Russian and Saudi leaders was a large oil deal worth $10 billion and the rapidly changing situation in the Middle East. Following the recent cooling of relations between the United States, Iran, Turkey, and other countries, Russia's political ambitions in the Middle East began to unfold.
On October 14, Putin held talks with King of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Ibn Salman Al Saud, on strengthening bilateral relations. Putin noted that Russia considers it important to develop friendly and mutually beneficial relations with Saudi Arabia. Salman also expressed the hope that cooperation with Russia would help strengthen regional security and fight terrorism.
On this day, the parties signed more than 20 cooperation agreements in such fields as energy, petrochemicals, communications, and artificial intelligence, as well as long-term cooperation agreements between OPEC and non-oil producing countries. According to Saudi media, the total value of the agreement was about $10 billion.
According to the Saudi News Agency (SPA), Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed with Putin the development of the situation in Yemen and Syria, as well as the need to fight extremism and terrorism. Bin Salman said energy cooperation between Russia and Saudi Arabia helps maintain stability in the region.
Last time, Putin was in Riad in 2007. Now both countries jointly control oil supplies and maintain high prices for it, but their positions in regional conflicts in the Middle East are very different. In the Syrian civil war, Moscow was always on the side of Bashar al-Assad, and Saudi Arabia supported the opposition. Russia has continuously strengthened ties with Iran, which cannot be said about Saudi Arabia, a faithful ally of the United States.
Despite clear differences, Russia has long been trying to lure Saudi Arabia to its side. Because of the mysterious incident with the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Turkey, at the G20 summit in December last year in Argentina, everyone openly ignored the crown prince, and only Putin kindly talked to him.
PutinвЂ™s visit took place at the right time. Last week, Trump announced the withdrawal of troops from northeast Turkey, thereby betraying the Kurds. There are no signs of improvement in US-Iran relations. All this made the American allies in the Middle East tense up. Russia immediately squeezed into the вЂњgapвЂќ that opened between the United States and the allied Middle Eastern countries.
In an interview with the Saudi media on October 13, Putin said that Russia is building bilateral relations solely on the basis of active interaction, and not against any country's allies.
Since 2015, Russia has begun to publicly announce its return to the Middle East. In September 2015, at the request of the Syrian government, Russia sent troops there to help fight extremists and return the lost lands. At the end of 2017, Putin announced the withdrawal of troops, with the exception of the air force base in Khmeimim and the Navy base in Tartus.
Before the trip, Putin reiterated that Russia was able to positively influence the situation in the Persian Gulf. After leaving Saudi Arabia, he will go on a state visit to the UAE.
According to the Washington Post, introducing the Middle East into the political center is part of MoscowвЂ™s strategy. Not so long ago, Putin announced that he would go to Israel on a visit early next year. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself visited Russia last month a few days before the start of the election.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel perceive Trump as an important figure to restore relations with the United States. However, the complication of the situation in the Persian Gulf following the US withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal, which countries secretly approved, made them worried.
Last month, an attack was made on two oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, for which the Hussites from Yemen claimed responsibility. However, many Western countries led by the United States blame Iran for everything. These attacks also raised doubts about UN security efforts. Weapons bought from the United States for hundreds of billions of dollars did not show their worth at the most crucial moment. Saudi Arabia has always been the main buyer of American weapons, especially after Trump came to power. A few months after taking office as the new president of the United States, Saudi Arabia promised to buy weapons worth 110 billion dollars.
After the attack on oil facilities, Putin began to actively offer Saudi Arabia S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems. If the country bought these air defense systems, Washington would begin to worry. The U.S. Department of Defense recently announced that it would additionally deploy 3,000 troops, two fighter squads, two Patriot air defense systems, and one THAAD long-range missile defense system calculation to Saudi Arabia provided that Saudi Arabia would bear all the costs.
Trump's intention to withdraw his troops from Syria was also an opportunity for Russia to enter the arena. The Kurds, deprived of any support, were opposed to the huge Turkish army that came close to it. They had no choice but to go over to the side of the Syrian government. On October 13, the Kurds announced an agreement with the Syrian government, which will deploy troops along the Turkish border to help the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) вЂњdeter the invasionвЂќ and return the land captured by Turkish troops and the opposition they support. According to a Kurdish intelligence officer, Russia once again played an important role in the negotiation process.
Russia not only maintained good relations with the Kurds and Syria but also with Turkey. In July this year, Turkey bought the S-400 air defense system from Russia, thereby causing a stir among its NATO comrades and alarm from the United States.
The American Broadcasting Company (CNN) commented on this as follows: вЂњNATO member countries bought Russian weapons specifically to bring down missiles launched from American fighters, it will not bring any good.вЂќ The Los Angeles Times reported that the decision to purchase the S-400 could mean вЂњthe end of the 70-year military cooperation between Ankara and Washington.вЂќ
Turkey has always fluctuated between the United States and Russia, it was initially against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and in 2016 after an unsuccessful coup, it began to draw closer to Russia and even created a mechanism for negotiations in Astana together with Russia and Iran.
It cannot be denied that recent US actions in the Middle East have made many countries in the region see a reliable вЂњfallback optionвЂќ in Russia. However, according to the Washington Post, Russia is inferior to the United States in economic and military power. Five years ago, the Russian economy suffered severely and still cannot fully recover from Western economic sanctions caused by the Ukrainian crisis, in addition, recent military conflicts have hit the country. Therefore, the S-400, which Russia is so proud of, was not tested in real combat conditions.
The countries of the Middle East are in no hurry to turn away from the United States and go over to the side of Russia. Saudi diplomat Adele al-Jubeyr mentioned in an interview that maintaining close ties with Russia would not affect relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States. The country will be able to develop friendly relations with Russia while maintaining close strategic interaction with the United States.