Moscow (CNSNews.com) – Russia and Saudi Arabia signed a package of deals valued at $2 billion during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the kingdom on Monday – just days after the Trump administration announced it would deploy another 3,000 U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia amid high tensions in the Persian Gulf.
Twenty-one agreements expand cooperation in areas including trade, energy, agriculture, space, healthcare, aviation, and culture.
At the first ever meeting of the Russian-Saudi Economic Council later in the day, Putin touted the growing business ties between the two countries.
“Trade last year increased by 15 percent and in January-July [of this year] it added another 38 percent. Investment cooperation is also growing,” he said. “In general, Saudi Arabia has entered the position of Russia’s leading economic partner in the Arab world.”
Putin’s first visit to Saudi Arabia in 12 years comes at a time when Moscow and Riyadh are experiencing an upswing in relations after years of rivalry. Earlier this decade, the two countries were competitors in the global oil markets and clashed over their support for opposing sides in the Syrian civil war.
Observers say that began to change after Riyadh became disillusioned with the U.S. over the Obama administration’s support for “Arab Spring” protests and especially its nuclear deal with Iran, the kingdom’s archrival in the Middle East.
An article in the influential Russian newspaper Vzglyad on Monday entitled “Putin is fixing the United States’ mistakes in the Middle East” contended that the Saudi disappointment with the Obama administration, and the success of Russia’s military intervention in Syria, allowed Moscow to revamp its relationship with the kingdom.
Following a 2015 visit to Moscow by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia pledged to invest $10 billion in the Russian economy. A quarter of that has been invested to date.
The next year, the two governments reached a deal to cut oil production to keep global prices high amid rising U.S. shale oil production. Moscow and Riyadh periodically extend the agreement, most recently over the summer.
At the Russian Energy Week Forum in Moscow earlier this month, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman called the two country’s energy partnership an “alliance” and declared that it would bring “perpetual stability to the oil market.”
“We are in an alliance because there is a lot of rationale in that alliance,” he said. “It did not come because there is emotion in it, but is a result of straight thinking about what we could do together.”
There has also been talk of Russia selling Saudi Arabia its advanced S-400 air defense system. In 2017, the two countries announced an agreement on the issue, although nothing has come of it so far.
Last month Putin reiterated his sales pitch to the kingdom after a cruise missile and drone attack on Saudi oil infrastructure, blamed by Western governments on Iran. Putin, speaking in Turkey alongside his Iranian counterpart, jokingly suggested that Saudi Arabia could prevent future attacks by purchasing the S-400.
The comment was widely perceived as a veiled dig at the U.S., whose Patriot air defense system is currently used by Saudi Arabia.
In an interview with Saudi state television shortly before the visit, Putin said strengthening military cooperation with Riyadh was a major item on his agenda.
“We are fostering a partnership in the trust-based, sensitive area of military and defense cooperation,” he said. “I am confident that my visit will help to build up the momentum both in developing bilateral relations and enhancing cooperation in international organizations.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters after the meeting between Putin and King Salman that the two had also discussed strengthening military-technical cooperation, but did not offer any specifics.
If Saudi Arabia were ever to buy the S-400 the move would likely spark a backlash from the U.S., the kingdom’s primary military ally. Washington has strongly opposed its partners – notably NATO ally Turkey – installing the Russian system.
The Pentagon announced late last week that it would deploy 3,000 troops to Saudi Arabia in response to a request by the crown prince for additional American military assistance, following months of tensions in the region culminating in the missile and drone attack on the oil facilities.