Although Russia participates in OPEC meetings as an observer and Moscow always confirms that the top producers in OPEC are its “allies” in energy market, particularly Saudi Arabia; Doha meetings held in February and April between Russia and other oil exporters failed to reach a consensus on reducing the volume of production to improve prices mainly because of Saudi’s hesitation and lack of willingness to cooperate.
Despite the fact that both the Russian and the Saudi economy as well are facing growing economic difficulties because the critical drop in oil prices, and the relative optimism followed the visits of the Saudi Crown Crown prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman to Russia last year, the Russian Saudi relation is still stagnated.
Along the last five years, the political differences between Moscow and the Saudi Arabia over Syria affect clearly the relationship between the two, and creating serious challenges that face the relation between Moscow and Riyadh. There is a clear disagreement between them over the Syrian crisis, as Riyadh has tended to support what they called “Syrian opposition”, while Russia supports legitimacy and stability in Syria.
The dispute over the political fate of Bashar al-Assad is a stumbling block hindering the rapprochement between the two countries. Saudi Arabia adheres to his departure, while Russia gives priority to the fight against terrorism and considers al-Assad an important partner in this stage, believes that his fate should be determined by the Syrians themselves without others. Moreover, Saudi Arabia considered that the Russian strikes against terrorism in Syria, is to support Bashar al-Assad, and to crash number of the Saudi-backed groups, which are terrorist for Moscow such as the “Army of Islam”.
Another challenge facing Russian Saudi relations is the escalation tension in the Saudi Iranian relations. Saudi Arabia considers Russia a strategic ally to Iran, and believes that Russia supports Iran and strengthens its capabilities through technical cooperation in the nuclear field and through military cooperation which, from Riyadh’s perspective, disturbs the balance of power in the Gulf region. Saudi Arabia considers Iran as the main enemy and the main threat to its national security. In this context, Saudi policy is based on the concept of “either/or”, which means that Moscow can either be a Saudi partner or an Iranian ally, and can’t keep a strategic relations and establish a balanced relationship with both.
However, reaching mutual understanding is not impossible in Russian Saudi relations. Historically, the two countries had good Memories and attitudes toward each other. Moscow was the first to recognize the Saudi state and to establish diplomatic relations with it early in 1926. Moreover, Saudi Arabia was the first Arab country to establish diplomatic relations with Moscow. Prince Faisal IbnSaud was the first Arab leader to visit the Soviet Union in 1932, where he had a very warm welcome from the Soviet leaders. The two countries successfully re-launched their relations during 1990s and push it to unprecedented levels of cooperation, especially after President Putin assumed the power in Russia. His visit to Riyadh in 2007 was a milestone in the relationship between the two countries.
Russia pays a clear interest to settle the misunderstanding with Riyadh and going forward in developing their mutual relations and cooperation. Moscow has previously suggested the idea of creating a system of regional security in Gulf Region as a formula to ensure security for all Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia and Iran. Russia’s vision differs in this respect completely with other great powers’ vision particularly United States, which bases its policy on bilateral relations, and inflaming sectarian tension between Shiites and Sunnis to achieve its interests in the region according to the old concept of “divided and rule”.
On the other hand, it is necessary for Saudi Arabia to re-think of its policies in the region which imposes a huge economic and political burden on it in a critical moment of transition in the Kingdom and involvement directly and indirectly in two extended conflicts in Yemen and Syria. If that happened it would leave a space for negotiations and political rapprochement between Russia and Riyadh over regional issues, and it would allow a good opportunity for re-launching Russian Saudi cooperation.