Some headlines and quotes that tell an unfamiliar story.
Russian President Vladimir Putin finally weighed in on the disappearance (and purportedly brutal slaying) of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi during a speech in Sochi on Thursday. His verdict? Russia doesn’t have enough information about the incident to justify spoiling their relationship with Saudi Arabia (and, by extension, the rest of OPEC, which has mostly backed Saudi Arabia during the burgeoning diplomatic crisis), according to Reuters.
Putin’s take is hardly surprising: Russia’s work with OPEC, which created a new Russia-Saudi axis to help manage global oil production and push up prices, has helped revive the Russian economy (while angering President Trump). Of course, Russia would be overjoyed to step in to any void left by the US if lawmakers force a rupture in the US-Saudi relationship, as evidenced by the recent agreement to sell Russian S-400 missiles to the Saudis.
* OilPrice.net: Is Saudi Arabia About To Enter The Arctic Gas Game? (Oct 18)
Aramco is “seriously” studying investing in the planned Arctic LNG plant, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih told reporters in Riyadh on February 14 at a joint briefing with his Russian counterpart. Saudi King Salman is keen to strengthen energy ties between the two nations following their oil-cuts collaboration that helped drive crude’s recovery, according to Al-Falih.
* Turki Aldakhil, editor of Al Arabiya, Saudi’s RT: US sanctions on Riyadh would mean Washington is stabbing itself (Oct 14)
Imposing any type of sanctions on Saudi Arabia by the West will cause the kingdom to resort to other options, US President Donald Trump had said a few days ago, and that Russia and China are ready to fulfill Riyadh’s military needs among others. No one can deny that repercussions of these sanctions will include a Russian military base in Tabuk, northwest of Saudi Arabia, in the heated four corners of Syria, Israel, Lebanon and Iraq.
At a time where Hamas and Hezbollah have turned from enemies into friends, getting this close to Russia will lead to a closeness to Iran and maybe even a reconciliation with it.
MBS has opened a meeting with Russian, Chinese, Japanese and French businessmen who attended an economic forum in Riyadh despite the Khashoggi murder scandal, with the words: “Now we know who our best friends are, and who our best enemies are.”
The remarks were quoted to Russia’s Ria Novosti news agency by Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the State Hermitage Museum, who witnessed the meeting.
Riyadh is planning to provide major investments into the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) with the fund expected to be renamed, according to the head of RDIF, Kirill Dmitriev.
“In the near future, we will announce that Saudi Arabia is investing in RCIF and the fund will be renamed as the Russian-Chinese-Saudi Fund,” Dmitriev said at the Future Investment Initiative (FII), Saudi Arabia’s international investment forum. …
The fund reportedly invests at least 70 percent of its capital in Russia and member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and up to 30 percent – in China.
Some longer analyses:
When Russian President Vladimir Putin’s legacy is recorded in his country’s history, the breakthrough in the relations with Saudi Arabia will stand out as a personal achievement. Prompted by a gloomy backdrop of precipitous crash in oil prices to $20-30 per barrel in 2014 (compared to $100 just three years ago), Russia began tentative outreach to Saudi Arabia as to how to retrieve a seemingly hopeless situation that sharply reduced the income of the two energy superpowers from their oil exports.
Meanwhile, the Russian-Saudi axis took the nature of an institutional forum known as OPEC+, which is expected to have a full-fledged secretariat soon alongside the OPEC secretariat in Vienna, to be headed by Russia. The two countries began by tentatively marking production level for oil producing countries at a six-month interval, but the Russian-Saudi axis has since acquired such traction already that they are contemplating a long-term, open-ended agreement to continuously, permanently finesse the supply and demand for oil to keep the prices stable and provide underpinning for growth of the world economy.
The Putin-MBS personal equation played a big part in al this. MBS has been a frequent visitor to Moscow and his last visit for the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2018 was the occasion when he met Putin and the Saudi and Russian thinking veered round to search for a framework for the long-term coordination in the oil market. …
Without doubt, the TASS interview with Al-Falih has been timed to remind the international community that it will be catastrophic to isolate Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi affair. (Incidentally, RDIF issued a statement on October 20 welcoming the “decisive actions” taken by the Saudi authorities on the Khashoggi case and pointedly affirming support for the Crown Prince’s flagship project known as Vision 2030.) The signals from Moscow so far have scrupulously avoided any criticism or censuring of Saudi Arabia, unlike the US and European countries. …
Reports have appeared that preparations are under way for a visit by Putin to Saudi Arabia. All in all, what emerges is that Russia is standing up to be counted as a friend when Saudi Arabia needs it most. Surely, the Russian support provides much “strategic depth” to the Saudi regime at this juncture when it faces an existential crisis – especially MBS.
* Alexander Mercouris (2014):
Whilst Saudi Arabia and Russia have taken opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, they are allies in Egypt — a far more important country to Saudi Arabia than Syria is — where both Russia and Saudi Arabia are strong supporters of the military government of General Sisi. Both also share similar perspectives on the threat posed by the Islamic State. Moreover, personal relations between President Putin of Russia and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia are known to be very good, whilst personal relations between King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and President Obama of the US are said to be rather bad. Saudi Arabia has no obvious reason for wanting to weaken Russia and it is very unlikely to say the least that the Saudis would agree to harm themselves by waging an economic war against Russia simply because Obama and the US wanted them to.
Well, you get the idea.
Russia’s relations with Saudi Arabia are pretty good. They have been good for longer than expected. And they’ll be improve commensurately with the strength of the Western response over Khashoggi.
Russia will benefit from this far more than Saudi Arabia does. It also has zero obligations to Khashoggi or the factions he’s associated with (neoliberalism.txt, Muslim Brotherhood).
Consequently, it has absolutely zero incentives to join the Western campaign against the Saudis.
I am actually pretty skeptical about Saudi Arabia’s long-term prospects (see Saudi Arabia: The IPhone vs. the Ikhwan from a year ago), and the Khashoggi affair has just reinforced that impression.
However, there is no reason not to profit while the going is good, and evidently the people around Trump are of a similar mindset – even if they have to make some symbolic concessions to neoliberalism.txt, which was cool with the slaughter of thousands of Yemenis but has finally been triggered into outrage as soon as one of its own members was fell under the knife.