King Salman Begins Historic Trip to Russia –First Ever Visit By a Saudi Monarch

Irshad Salim — Saudi Arabia’s King Salman is in Moscow for the first ever visit by a Saudi monarch to Russia in a historic and unprecedented state visit in almost a century of diplomatic ties.

Saudi King Salman, center, and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, right, review the honor guard upon their arrival at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, Russia, Oct. 4, 2017.

Considered a turning point, the visit is aimed at strengthening the two countries growing geopolitical and geoeconomic bilateral ties.

During the four-day visit, the king is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin for talks on issues ranging from oil to Syria.

The visit reflect strengthening ties between the world’s two largest oil producers. In November, Moscow and Riyadh helped push through deal in which OPEC and 10 other oil-producing countries, including Russia, agreed to cut their production in a bid to combat a supply glut and shore up crude prices.

A slew of investment deals, including nuclear power technologies and expanded food exports are expected to be signed during the trip. The kingdom has committed more than $10 billion for investment in Russia– in infrastructure, retail, logistics, and agriculture, through its sovereign wealth fund and other investment vehicles. Riyadh is also planning to invest in Russian energy assets.

The two countries will sign investment agreements worth more than $3 billion during the visit, the Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said. They include a $1.1 billion deal for the Russian petrochemical company Sibur to build a plant in Saudi Arabia, a $1 billion joint technology investment fund, another $1 billion joint fund to invest in energy projects, and Saudi investment in Russian toll roads, including a new one in Moscow.

These agreements fit squarely in Saudi Arabia’s push for non-oil economic development and modernization as part of its Vision 2030 program and comes amid geopolitical uncertainty, with U.S. global leadership questioned and oil prices depressed.

Asked about ties with Riyadh during a panel discussion at an international energy conference Wednesday, Putin responded that Moscow doesn’t see close U.S.-Saudi relations as an obstacle for closer cooperation with the Saudis, and added that alliances tend to shift.

“Is there anything in the world that stays unchanged?” Putin said. “I think that all things change.”

King Salman and President Putin are expected to discuss extending oil production cuts ahead of the OPEC meeting in November.

Ilya Fabrichnikov, head of the foreign affairs group at the Russian Association of Public Relations, said the visit marked a shift in regional and global affairs. “We are witnessing a move from a unipolar world to a more regionalized state of affairs,” he told Arab News.

Anton Mardasov of the Russian International Affairs Council said the two countries were moving to end their “stereotyped perceptions of each other. Taking into account the nature of the Russian economy and the country’s geopolitical position, it is important for Moscow to attract foreign investment and ameliorate the investment climate.

“In this regard, Saudi-Russian business and investment cooperation serves Russian national interests. There are a large number of Muslims (20 million) in Russia who can benefit from Islamic banking, which is an area of investment for Russia and Saudi Arabia.”

The Russian capital is also celebrating a highly publicized “Saudi Culture Week” during the king’s visit to Moscow– “it will be watched closely around the world — perhaps especially in Washington,” The Washington Post wrote.

“Generally speaking, there is wide support in Saudi Arabia for strengthening and broadening political, economic and cultural ties with Russia,” said Fahad Nazer, a political consultant in Washington to WP.

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