President Vladimir Putin has met with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman today in a meeting that left the Saudi Prince saying, “relations between Saudi Arabia and Russia are seeing one of their best stages at the moment”.
While this may leave many scratching their heads, it actually follows the logic of both Russia’s foreign policy and of wider developments in the world.
First of all, Russia’s foreign policy is non-ideological and nor does it seek to violently oppose nations who have a different foreign policy to that of Russia, no matter how different.
Although Saudi Arabia helps to support al-Qaeda and ISIS which Russia is fighting in Syria, Turkey not only supporters similar jihadist groups in Syria such as the FSA, but more importantly also has an extremely capable army to back up the proxy jihadists. Saudi Arabia has lots of money to throw at vile jihadists but they have no real armed forces capable of backing them up. In Yemen, the only place the Saudi’s have tried to do so, they are losing a brutal war to poorly armed Houthi forces whose support from Iran is greatly exaggerated by western mainstream media.
If Russia can talk reasonably with Turkey, then surely Russia can do the same with the vastly less militarily relevant Saudi Arabia.
Secondly, there is the fact that many do not want to admit. Saudi Arabia needs Russia more than it needs the US. When all the weapons and convoys Cadillacs America has to offer are sold to Saudi, America realistically offers Saudi little in terms of trade. With the US becoming increasingly energy independent, America’s need for Gulfi oil is decreasing and apart from oil Saudi exports virtually nothing other than terrorism.
By contrast, like Saudi, Russia is an major energy producer and exporter. It was indeed only when Russia agreed with OPEC to cut production levels last year that Saudi avoided an even bigger economic recession than the one it is currently experiencing and trying its best to ignore.
Russia has the ability to flood the energy market at whim and is not formally bound by OPEC. In this sense Russia could if it so desired, play a tough upper hand with Saudi in respect of world-energy prices.
The Saudi Crown Prince went to Moscow knowing full well of Russia’s strategic partnership with Iran. The Saudis also know that if they declared war on Iran, Russia would give full political support and possibly also material support to Iran while America would not be likely to risk war with a major Iranian military power over Saudi Arabia. America hasn’t yet done so for Israel which should worry a state that if anything is slightly less close to Washington than the leaders in Tel Aviv.
This leaves Saudi with little choice but to have good relations with Russia. Russia for its part seeks realistically good relations with every country, there is nothing special about its relationship with Saudi, much though the Saudi propaganda machine might say otherwise.