“Everything was in confusion in the Oblonskys’ house“. Such is the beginning of “Anna Karenina” – a novel by the great Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy that comes to mind of everyone who follows the latest world news. Indeed, all was mixed up on the global arena, where former friends become bitter enemies, and those who actively and persistently fought against each other, suddenly tied together. Precisely such thoughts come to mind after the analysis of an unexpected and, at first glance, strange visit of a prominent visitor from Saudi Arabia, the King’s son, Defense Minister Muhammad bin Salman to Russia. The Saudi delegation also included those officials who, along with the King determine the foreign policy of the kingdom – Foreign Minister Adel Al-Dzhubeyr, a former ambassador to the US, who has close ties to key figures of the political and social world in Washington and Oil Minister Al al-Naimi, who actually determines OPEC’s policy.
It should be noted that for several weeks before this, Vladimir Putin and King Salman were actively communicating by phone. During this visit, on behalf of his father – King Salman, the Minister of Defense, invited the Russian president to Riyadh, and this invitation was accepted. In turn, Vladimir Putin invited the king to Moscow, and this proposal was also accepted. And possibly, one of these two visits will take place.
It is really interesting that as a result of this visit, at first glance, nonetheless, some practical results in the economic arena have been achieved. According to the Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, Saudi Arabia is interested in energy projects in Russia and the parties have reconvened the Joint Intergovernmenta
The Saudis have also expressed their desire to buy a certain number of Russian tanks and ‘Iskander-E’ complexes, to implement joint projects on the basis of the Russian GLONASS system, and in addition, to invest in agriculture and even in “Russian Housing and Communal Services”. By the way, according to the latest news, GLONASS, apparently, has closed the program of modernizing this system because of the obstructionist position of our US “partner”. But the message that a memorandum was signed by Saudi Arabia to invest $10 billion in the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) sounds even more exotic.
It seems, at least the beginning of the path has been approximately marked and we should move on. But it became more complicated than it was stated before. And simple statistics clearly shows that it is too early to talk about anything, much less of any “breakthrough”. The top five trade and economic partnerships of the Kingdom are as follows:
- For export – United States (14.3%), China (13.7%), Japan (13.7%), South Korea (9.9%), India (8.2%).
- For imports – China (13.5%), USA (13.2%), South Korea (6.7%), Germany (6.5%), India (6.3%).
According to the data for the end of 2013, the situation has not changed a lot. Russia’s share in Saudi Arabia’s foreign trade does not exceed 0.2 percent, and there are no indicators of any noticeable increase in this share. In short, any talk about a ‘breakthrough’ would be a serious distortion of reality. And Riyadh is well aware of this. Why is there such activity on the part of the Saudis? Most likely for our benefit – a typical affair, which has been a co-spin by Riyadh and Washington. Allegations that Saudi Arabia may have some independent foreign policy strategy, contrary to American interests are profoundly erroneous.
Just as before, the family of Saudis counts on the Americans and their military power. It should be recalled that the US-Saudi alliance dates back to the 30s of the last century, when the Standard Oil Company of California, one of the leading companies in the Rockefeller oil kingdom received a concession in Saudi Arabia. It happened in 1933, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected US President and Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. Saudi Arabia was in extreme need of sources of revenue, and wished to distance itself from the British Empire, under whose close auspices it had been formed initially.
On February 18, 1943, 1.5 years after its sedating to London statement that Saudi Arabia “was a little far” from the United States, F.D. Roosevelt included King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud in the Lend-Lease program. The following year, a significant shortage of oil caused Washington’s military concern, giving a strong additional impulse to the rapprochement with the owners of the Arabian Deserts.
After the Yalta Conference, the US president had a five-hour meeting with Ibn Saud, who was striving to ensure the continued presence of the overseas power in his homeland after the war – for the Wahhabi leader it was supposed to neutralize and balance the influence of the “foggy Albion”. The parties signed an agreement on the monopoly of the United States in the development of the Saudi oil fields – the “Quincy Pact”. Under the pact, the United States received the exclusive rights for exploration, mining and acquisition of Saudi oil, while guaranteeing the Saudis protection against any external threat. Since then, it is precisely such a close relationship that binds both countries.
But, as the ancients said – everything flows; everything changes. And now it seems that Saudi Arabia is simply trying to get as far away as possible from the “custody” of the United States, with the support of other active players in the region. In recent years, Russia and China have significantly increased their influence in the Middle East, and Washington has appeared as though amongst the losers. In fact, if Russia will be able to support both Saudi Arabia and at the same time act in the interests of Iran and Syria, it will be a historical change on the Middle East,” similar to “Russia’s turn to Asia” and the New Silk Road project of China. Just how the US is going to respond to such actions is absolutely not clear, although it is always possible to introduce new sanctions, even if they are unlikely to be any more effective than the previous ones.
First of all, good relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia could potentially lead to the creation of a large-scale oil alliance. Both, Saudi Arabia as well as Russia must solve the problem of low prices. But it is necessary to solve this subject to growth and stabilization in the long term. Ultimately, such an alliance would lead to higher oil prices. In addition, it is important from a geo-economic point of view, as Saudi Arabia could become a major buyer of Russian defense systems. The Saudis are currently fully disappointed with the position of the Obama’s administration. For this there is a huge number of reasons, including an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.
However, Russia should not forget that over the last 40 years, when Saudi Arabia first opposed the Soviet Union, and then Russia, not only in the Middle East region, but also actively inciting terrorists in the North Caucasus against Moscow, it was acting in the interest of the United States, knocking down the price oil at the end of the 80’s of the last century. And therefore, apparently, it would be a mistake to talk about any real convergence of positions between the two states. Riyadh, having accumulated huge oil revenues, continues to interfere in the affairs of most Arab states. In this regard, the Syrian newspaper ‘Al-Furat’ states quite accurately – “We do not trust Saudi Arabia, its policy of encouraging extremists in Syria and Iraq, which threatens neighboring countries. Riyadh’s ideology is militant Wahhabism, which generates fear and instability in the region. Wahhabism is the ideology of the “Islamic state” (ISIS). Riyadh has not received permission for military action in Yemen from the UN Security Council resolution, but nevertheless it is involved there in an undeclared war. In other words, it is an act of open aggression, to which the world and, above all, the West has turned a blind eye. At the same time, there is not a word that as a result of the aerial bombing of cities in Yemen, more than 4 thousand innocent people were killed and a humanitarian crisis has gripped the entire country”.
Yet, apparently, bridges should be slowly built with Riyadh, and where it is possible, a common policy should be developed and conflicts smoothed. Moscow, especially in this time of sanctions by the Western world, should have, if not allies, then at least supporters who want to establish a new relationship with our country. But at the same time we should not forget that the House of Saudis, basically, is still focused on America, and on Saudi territory there are military bases with US weapons and several thousand American “trainers”. And in the event of any negative developments for the US, this “fifth column” can come into play.
Victor Mikhin, Corresponding Member of the Academy of Natural Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.