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Grigory Kosach

Professor of the Chair of Modern East Department of History, Political Science and Law, Russian State University for the Humanities, RIAC expert

Elena Melkumyan

Doctor of Political Science, Expert at the Institute of Oriental studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, and a Professor in the Department of Oriental Studies in the Russian State University for Humanities

Russia’s foreign policy in the Middle East is a multidimensional endeavour, which calls for something akin to strategic relations to be built with infl uential regional actors. Pursuing a partnership with Saudi Arabia is a comprehensive task for the Russian Federation. Saudi Arabia is a leading country in the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) and, like Russia, it is a serious player on the global oil market. Changes in the region and around the world, as well as the declaration by Saudi Arabia in April 2016 of its socioeconomic transformation in the “Vision for Saudi Arabia until the year 2030” open up new opportunities for the two countries.

Russia’s foreign policy in the Middle East is a multidimensional endeavour, which calls for something akin to strategic relations to be built with influential regional actors. Pursuing a partnership with Saudi Arabia is a comprehensive task for the Russian Federation. Saudi Arabia is a leading country in the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) and, like Russia, it is a serious player on the global oil market. Changes in the region and around the world, as well as the declaration by Saudi Arabia in April 2016 of its socioeconomic transformation in the “Vision for Saudi Arabia until the year 2030” open up new opportunities for the two countries.
Russia and Saudi Arabia have never enjoyed a strategic relationship. And ties between the two countries are far from being sustainable or multilateral. The development of mutual ties is affected by the track record of relations, in which each country’s views on certain specific aspects of its partner’s general course plays an important role. The lack of trust complicates joint activities aimed at addressing regional issues.

It is imperative that obstacles to establishing mutually beneficial connections – namely, political differences – be removed. This applies to the internal Syrian conflict, which requires increased coordination on the part of Russia with Riyadh (and the GCC) in the fight against IS and the restoration of contacts with “moderate” groups of the Syrian opposition.

Russia’s presence in the Middle East is a reality that Riyadh needs to reckon with. Currently, this presence is associated with Russia’s allied relations with Iran and the incumbent Syrian government. Riyadh considers both countries to be its adversaries and perceives Syria as an area of political conflict with Moscow. The impact of this conflict on other segments of the bilateral relationship is obvious. Nevertheless, judging by the experience of Saudi–China ties, these discrepancies, however deep they may be, should not become obstacles to mutually beneficial bilateral contacts. And both sides are genuinely interested in this.

The diversification and liberalization of Saudi Arabia’s foreign economic ties can help bring bilateral economic relations to a higher level. However, in order to secure positions on the Saudi market, Russia will need ingenuity and the ability to offer competitive products and services in various areas, such as space, nuclear power engineering, agriculture, etc. Another promising area for cooperation is the provision of Russia’s services to facilitate the establishment of the Saudi defence sector, including on the basis of cooperation with other contracting parties. The two countries should only join efforts on the basis of the terms and conditions stipulated by specific agreements and contracts. Small and medium-sized business should be included as well, for it is this segment that has the most potential in terms of high technologies and innovation start-ups. This is equally true for the development of relations in culture, education, sport and tourism.

Possibilities of a Strategic Relationship Between Russia and Saudi Arabia, 223 kb

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Poll conducted

  1. Korean Peninsula Crisis Has no Military Solution. How Can It Be Solved?
    Demilitarization of the region based on Russia-China "Dual Freeze" proposal  
     36 (35%)
    Restoring multilateral negotiation process without any preliminary conditions  
     27 (26%)
    While the situation benefits Kim Jong-un's and Trump's domestic agenda, there will be no solution  
     22 (21%)
    Armed conflict still cannot be avoided  
     12 (12%)
    Stonger deterrence on behalf of the U.S. through modernization of military infrastructure in the region  
     4 (4%)
    Toughening economic sanctions against North Korea  
     2 (2%)
 
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