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A Middle East shift

October 6, 2017 | Expert Insights

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman is currently on a historic four-day visit to Russia. The two nations have signed a number of agreements worth billions of dollars.

Can this visit be a shift in Middle East politics?


The modern bilateral relationship between Russia and Saudi Arabia can be traced back to 1926. Soviet Union was the first nation to establish full diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Hejaz and Nejd. The Kingdom of Hejaz and Nejd would later be renamed Saudi Arabia in 1932. However, in 1938, the relations between the two countries cooled down as Saudi Arabia ended its diplomatic ties and shut down its legation in Soviet Union. The two nations did not have any diplomatic ties during the Cold War. The dissolution of Soviet Union resulted in the two countries once again establishing official ties. Between 1946 and 1990, only a few Muslims from Soviet Union were allowed to make the Hajj pilgrimage annually.  

In 2007, Russian leader Vladimir Putin met King Abdullah in Riyadh. It was the first time a Russian leader had made an official visit to the Kingdom. However, the tenuously established ties disintegrated during the Syrian Civil War. Russia supports Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad and Saudi Arabia lends its supports to Syrian rebels.

Presently, the two nations account for about half of the world's crude oil production.



Saudi Arabia’s King Salman is currently on a historic four-day visit to Russia. This is the first time a ruling Saudi monarch has visited Moscow. There has been speculation that this visit could likely change the politics in Middle East.

The two nations signed more than 15 cooperation agreements. These agreements range from oil, military and space exploration and are worth billions of dollars. Russian Foreign Minister called the visit the moment the ties between the countries “reached a new qualitative level”.

In what is being hailed as a remarkable moment, Saudi Arabia also signed preliminary agreements to buy S-400 air defence systems from Russia. Under this deal, the nation will also be buying Kornet anti-tank guided missile systems and multiple rocket launchers.

Vladimir Putin has spoken about the visit noting, “This is the first visit by a Saudi Arabian monarch in the history of our relations and that in itself is a landmark event. I'm sure your visit will boost the ties between our countries.”

The Saudi King spoke about his concerns regarding Iran adding, “We aim to strengthen our relations in the interests of peace and security, in the interests of developing the world economy. We emphasize that the security and stability of the Gulf region and the Middle East is an urgent necessity for achieving stability and security in Yemen. This would demand that Iran give up interference with the internal affairs of the region, to give up actions destabilizing the situation in this region.”


Our assessment is that the historic visit indicates a new reality for Middle East. Saudi Arabia has worked alongside Russia before in dealing with the oil glut and drop in oil prices. An open cooperation between the nations could be a result of that. Additionally, the visit could also be because Saudi Arabia has realized that America’s influence in world politics is fading. The nation did not receive complete support from the Trump administration regarding the Qatar rift. A number of Middle East nations like Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Turkey have in recent times renewed their ties with Russia. The region has realized that Russia is becoming an emerging power as the US continues to fade.