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Beyond oil: Saudi-Russia cooperation enters new realm of possibilities

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Maria Dubovikova

The G-20 summit in Buenos Aires gathered leaders of world economies, collectively representing 85 percent of the global GDP and approximately 80 percent of world trade.

The summit in itself was important not only in terms of the activities, discussions among its officials but by the meetings held on its side-lines.

It was futile to expect significant breakthroughs from such meetings. Yet such platforms always present great opportunity for leaders to meet, discuss issues of mutual concern, to exchange views on global agenda, especially when bilateral relations are far from ideal.

Though not everyone made its best use, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman tried to build on them.

Beyond oil

After the first and historic official visit of the Saudi King Salman in October 2017, bilateral ties have strengthened. It became clear that oil is not the only commodity that makes countries work together and develop bilateral ties.

Bilateral cooperation concerns multiple fields, starting from political and economic cooperation up to the cultural and media exchanges, bringing the people of the two countries closer. Preparations are said to be on for Russian leader’s visit to Saudi Arabia, though the dates of the official visit are not announced yet.

Saudi Arabia is an important partner for Russia considering it is one of the dominant countries in the region. Moscow’s reaction on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi shows how the ties are precious for Moscow, which was among a few who stood alongside the Kingdom during this complex and sensitive affair.

Both the countries should work to narrow the gap between Riyadh and Moscow and find common ground on various issues, including Syria

Maria Dubovikova

Settlement in Syria

Russia needs Saudi influence in Syria and its help to settle the conflict. Russian plans and strategies are more or less succeeding in Syria but for final settlement Russia vitally needs the Kingdom.

The importance of political relations with Moscow, from a Saudi point of view, lies in the growing importance of the Russian role in the Middle East, whether in Syria or in other areas, which necessitates cooperation between the two countries not only to resolve the Syrian conflict but also other pending problems including Yemen, Libya and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

It is no secret that Riyadh’s foreign policy is at odds with Russian foreign policy on a number of issues; yet, rapprochement between the two sides is possible any time soon because this will serve Arab and Russian interests.

Saudis have come closer to Moscow’s position on Syria and they no longer talk about the need to remove President Assad as a condition to start the political process in the country. This suggests that there are points of agreement with regard to the future of Syria as Saudi minister of foreign affairs has previously said that Saudi Arabia is with any decision the Syrian people choose, with reference of course, to the future of Bashar al-Assad.

Both the countries should work to narrow the gap between Riyadh and Moscow and try to find common ground on various issues, including Syria.

Enhanced security

Any future cooperation between Riyadh and Moscow will result in better security and stability in the Middle East region, at a time Saudi Arabia continues to remain an indispensable regional and international player. Saudi Arabia needs Russia as well to balance and diversify its foreign ties and cooperation.

Science and technology might become one of the motors of the cooperation, bringing the ties to the new level, taking them away of the thorny political issues stuffed with a shaky balance of agreements and disagreements.

One of the pillars of cooperation would be through Russian space agency Ross Cosmos through its plans with King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) to implement joint projects in the field of space infrastructure development in Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Agreements have already been signed for cooperation in the exploration and use of space for peaceful purposes.

Mutual interests

Despite some obstacles – permanent threat of the US sanctions being one example – that may impede the Saudi-Russian rapprochement, there are opportunities for the prospects of these relations in light of mutual interests and common goals of the two countries, meaning that the differences between them on some issues will not affect their rapprochement if they succeed in maximizing the outcome.

Both parties should eliminate the stalemate that has beset their relations over the past years, and enhance their mutual understanding in dealing with the challenges they both face within the framework of international interactions or regional concerns.

The side-lines of G20 indeed provided a good platform for both the countries to reaffirm mutual desire to work and cooperate in multiple fields, besides oil.

First published at Al Arabiya