Several factors push journalists who headed to Moscow to cover the Saudi-Russian Summit to describe it as an exceptional event. It is the first time a Saudi monarch walks into the Kremlin Palace.
The keenness of Russian President Vladimir Putin to receive the king with hospitality reflected Moscow’s wish to make this visit a green light for solid and deep relations to serve interests of both countries.
It is not restricted to the symbolic value of King Salman’s entrance to Kremlin, but the date has its significance based on political and economic facts. We are talking about two major petroleum-producing countries that are also among the G20.
It is no secret that each state knows the significance and strengths of the other. Russia is a country that overcame the collapse of the Soviet Union and came back as a dynamic strong, influential power in the international arena.
Two years ago, Russia became a key player in the Middle East because of its military intervention in Syria, and it is now seen as the sole and compulsory passage for a resolution in Syria. Russia is a permanent Security Council member and has the ability to block resolutions through its veto power. Moscow didn’t hesitate in recent years to underscore its right to use that power.
Russia also possesses nuclear powers and is achieving significant technological and scientific progress, as it wants to outrun the West in invading space. We shouldn’t forget that this country that sleeps under snow every year, also sleeps on a wealth of cultural mines not restricted to the fascinating novels.
Federal Russia is also concerned with Muslims who represent part of its nation and history – it is concerned with Muslims who have become its neighbors after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In return, Russia is aware of the economic and political weight of the kingdom and its wide Arab, Islamic and international popularity — it is also aware that Saudi Arabia has the ability to take decisions in building ties based on its interests.
“Strategic Partnership” with the US and promising ties with China, Japan and many other states do not fend off tight relations with Russia. The Russian military intervention in Syria might have doubled Russia’s belief in the huge role Saudi Arabia could play in building a fair peaceful settlement.
In addition, Russia believes that a new and strong Saudi Arabia is under development and that Saudi Vision 2030 promises economic and social transformations whose impact will expand beyond the Saudi border. The Russian side doesn’t conceal its comfort towards the Saudi move, from confronting terrorism to waging a comprehensive war on extremism, its causes and roots. This builds a bridge between the two.
Matching policies are no more a condition for building ties in the current world. The Saudi-Russian cooperation to stabilize the oil market was encouraging. In the past two years, they discovered that modest trade doesn’t suit the available opportunities in the two countries willing to diversify economies and overcome dependence on oil.
A policy of building bridges
A new approach became a must despite the different points of view towards Syria. Talks of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had their decisive role in launching the dialogue of interest and exchange. It is a policy of building bridges and discovering investment and cooperation opportunities in a way that serves both sides and reinforces the ability to tackle topics of disagreement.
The mutual desire to open a new page of cooperation was clear from the beginning. Saudi officials and investors brought with them persuasive, detailed and realistic studies that have left a positive impact on the Russian side and forecast further agreements.
The Russian keenness to let the summit be a success is pretty obvious. On the eve of the visit, Russian FM Sergei Lavrov expected – in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat – that the summit will be a turning point between the two countries and will take cooperation between them to a whole new level in a way that contributes to the stability of the Middle East.
Lavrov added that both states realize the fact that there are no alternative solutions for regional crises but political and diplomatic ways via a comprehensive national dialogue in line with international law.
Economy is the key and interests are the actual backbone. It is no more possible to build ties on wishes or matching circumstantial political stances. Russia’s Putin knows that the economy is the strongest general in upcoming battles and that a booming economy is a guarantor for status as well as stability and ability to compete and deliver military equipment.
Without a strong economy, military capabilities drop and major roles relapse as well. For that, opportunities must be discovered, ties must be established based on interests, education developed, modern technology possessed, expertise exchanged and development prospects opened.
The date in Kremlin was exceptional. Two countries discover dimensions of cooperation using the language of figures, mutual interests and the wish to build bridges. The essential question is about the level these ties will reach after the Kremlin date.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.
Ghassan Charbel is the Editor-in-Chief of London-based Al Sharq al-Awsat newspaper. Ghassan's Twitter handle is @GhasanCharbel.