Saudia Arabia’s King Salman is making a historic 4-day visit to Moscow, where he will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in what may signal a shift in Middle East geopolitics and regional security.
Accompanied by about 100 Saudi businessmen, the monarch will discuss a range of subjects including coordination on setting global oil prices, and sign business deals:
With diplomatic alliances shifting across the Middle East, Moscow hopes that King Salman’s historic four-day visit will show that Moscow can forge close alliances with all the key Middle East players, including Turkey, Iran and now Saudi.
Only two years ago, the idea of a Saudi monarch visiting Moscow would have seem [sic] far-fetched, as Moscow and Riyadh have opposed each other for decades on every major regional conflict, from Afghanistan to the role of the Muslim Brotherhood.
But the two sides have decided to end their animus, and in a round of meetings will sign commercial deals, coordinate on oil prices, and discuss a potential peace settlement in Syria, including the future role of Iran, now that it seems clear that President Bashar-al Assad is not going to be deposed.
The Saudis, normally heavily dependent on US goodwill and oil consumption, have tended to shy away from an ambitious foreign policy, focussing narrowly on the country’s opposition to Shia Iran. But over the past few years, increasingly wary of American reliability, the Saudis have started to diversify their diplomatic alliances, including building contacts with forces with which it had previously refused to have dealings, such as Shia figures in Iraq.
Analyst comment: In the context of rising Iranian influence in Syria, this visit makes sense, considering both Iran and Syria have close ties with Russia. The Saudis are mortal enemies of Iran and they are no friends of the Assad regime, either. The Saudis remain concerned about Iran’s role in Iraq, in Syria, in Yemen. The Russians are in the Middle East and aren’t going anywhere, and since both Saudia Arabia and Russia are both oil powers, there are common interests to flesh out. And while the Saudis continue to be advantaged by U.S. patronage, it never hurts to hedge your bet in a volatile region filled with competing players and rising powers.