Putin visits Saudi Arabia in sign of growing ties

Russian President Vladimir Putin with Saudi Arabia's King Salman in Riyadh [Reuters]
Russian President Vladimir Putin with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in Riyadh [Reuters]

Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited Saudi Arabia in his first trip to the kingdom in over a decade, signing oil agreements and discussing regional security, in particular, Saudi Arabia’s ongoing rivalry with Iran.

A mounted guard escorted Putin’s limousine to King Salman’s Al-Yamamah palace in Riyadh after his arrival on Monday, his first visit since 2007.

At the palace, Putin listened to a Saudi military band play Russia‘s national anthem. He then greeted officials before sitting with King Salman for a conversation captured by state television.

The meeting signified strengthening relations between the two countries, who have worked together in recent years to keep oil supplies low, and thus keep prices high, but have been on opposite sides of regional conflicts.

Moscow has supported President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war, while Riyadh backed groups which fought for his overthrow. 

Russia has also strengthened ties in recent years with Iran, which is locked in a decades-old contest with Saudi Arabia for influence in the wider Middle East.

In recent months, tensions between the two sides have soared and veered towards open conflict. Putin has previously said he could play a positive role in easing tensions between Tehran and Riyadh, given Russia’s strong ties with both sides.

In a statement broadcast during the visit, Putin praised King Salman’s efforts at maintaining relations. 

“Russia sees the expansion of friendly and mutually beneficial ties with Saudi Arabia as particularly important,” Putin said.

In brief remarks, the 83-year-old King Salman said, “We look forward to working with Russia to achieve security and stability and fight terrorism.”

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the country’s assistant oil minister, then lead a signing ceremony for 20 agreements between the two nations, most memoranda of understanding in the fields of energy, petrochemicals, transport and artificial intelligence.

Earlier in the day, a broadly grinning Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the country’s de facto leader, had greeted Putin. The crown prince later met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

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