Russian-Saudi cooperation on the rise?

Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal visited Russia last week and held talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. The two sides discussed the numerous problems facing the region such as the war in Syria, the situations in Libya and Yemen, the Arab-Israeli escalation, and, of course, Iraq and the expansion of ISIS. The war on terrorism was on the bilateral agenda as well as intergovernmental cooperation, scientific cooperation and the importance of further developing the existing fair ties between the two countries.

Based on Lavrov’s declarations and the joint communiqué following the meeting, the two countries seem to have a rather similar view over many things on the agenda as well as common interests in the development of bilateral ties.

Following previous visits by Faisal, the parties confirmed their will and intention to boost bilateral ties at the economic and trade levels, among others. The two sides found common positions over the Syrian conflict, agreeing that it should be settled on the basis of the Geneva-1 communique. They also agreed to establish a bipartite working group for cooperation on the war on terrorism.

Oil markets

What is more significant and will probably have consequences for the whole feverish oil market is that the two states agreed to cooperate on questions relating to the energy and oil markets.

In fact, these days Russia and Saudi Arabia share more interests than ever. Both countries are interested in stability in the region as their internal stability depends on the regional one and the current unrest risks going out of control. Both countries consider ISIS a major threat that needs to be fought with all possible measures and instruments. Both countries, with their economic growth and development dependent on oil prices and stability of natural resources markets, are interested in stable, relatively high oil market prices as opposed to political, opportunistic pricing.

For Russia the matter of oil prices is a vital one as despite all attempts at economic diversification the country is still very dependent on natural resources and banks on them as the locomotive for economic growth and enrichment. This dependence is aggravated by the sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU, the United States and its several reliable allies following a fall out over Moscow’s foreign policy claims and maneuvers. The dramatic chilling of ties between the West and Russia has led to the incredible outflow of foreign capital from the country and some other rather painful, but not catastrophic, consequences.

For Russia the matter of oil prices is a vital one as despite all attempts at economic diversification the country is still very dependent on natural resources and banks on them as the locomotive for economic growth and enrichment.

Maria Dubovikova


The global framework of this rather ordinary visit is remarkable and adds special significance to the event itself as well as to its plausible consequences.

The region hasn’t seen any shift toward stability or improvement at the security level. On the contrary, the recent escalation in the Arab-Israeli conflict has complicated the already dangerous regional situation. More than ever, resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict requires broad international involvement and intensive pressure on both sides to push for a settlement based exclusively on a two-state solution.

ISIS is not hampered nor enfeebled by the air strikes of the U.S.-led coalition. The oil markets are unstable. The incredible drop in oil prices, while relatively a positive factor for oil consumers, is dramatic for oil exporters.

Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program look set to go beyond the deadlines and have all the chances of being prolonged for a couple more years.

It should be mentioned that the meeting between Faisal and Lavrov took place practically on the eve of the OPEC ministerial meeting to be held this week. That is rather interesting, when we consider that the two parties discussed the problems of regulating the energy market.

Furthermore, Russia has a tendency toward a return to its former position in the region and wants to build strong ties with regional powers, with Saudi Arabia at the top of the list. This tendency is boosted by the ongoing “Ice Age” in relations with the West.

Russia wants diversification

Russia is seeking diversification of ties with the East - both the Far East, and Middle East (MENA in more global terms), and Moscow is pinning much hope on the development of bilateral ties with Riyadh. This partnership promises cooperation on the vital topic of oil market regulation.

Furthermore, building strong ties with Saudi Arabia in the humanitarian sphere could positively influence the Russian Muslim community and prevent possible escalations in the Caucasus region, Tatarstan and elsewhere.

Global interests and mutual respect should overcome “political jealousy” at this stage.

Maria Dubovikova


Strong cooperation with Riyadh on numerous regional and global issues could also ease Russia’s intensification of ties with other regional players favoring Moscow’s involvement in the Middle East agenda and processes.

This cooperation could be very significant for both countries and the region in general. At the same time Russia and Saudi Arabia are divided on several issues but these don’t pose major obstacles to bilateral cooperation.

The problem is that against the backdrop of the confrontation between Russia and the West, Moscow’s attempts to gain positions in the region – disliked for the most part by the West even though they don’t harm their interests – could complicate the geopolitical games in the Middle East. This could lead to increasing pressure on regional players from the outside that would drag them into global intrigues as well. It is quite clear that Saudi Arabia and its regional allies need U.S. military assistance and participation in the offensive against ISIS. However, the interests of these countries in the energy sphere differ, while being close to Russia’s interests.

In this case the best scenario for all parties is balance: Regional powers, with Saudi Arabia at the head, would harmoniously develop their partnership ties, following their national interests; the external powers would not use their influence in the region, leaving regional powers to freely decide for themselves whom and in what manner to diversify ties of cooperation.

Global interests and mutual respect should overcome “political jealousy” at this stage, as the problems in the region are global and shared, even if national interests and views are opposing.


Maria Dubovikova is a co-founder of IMESClub (International Middle Eastern Studies Club), IMESClub Executive Director and member of the Club Council, author of several scientific articles and participant of several high level international conferences. She is a permanent member of the Think-tank under the American University in Moscow. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia) (honors diploma), she had been working for three months as a trainee at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. Now she is a PhD Candidate at MGIMO (Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia). Her research field is Russian foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, the policy of France and the US towards the Mediterranean, theory of international relations, humanitarian interventions and etc. Fluently speaks and writes in French and English. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:44 - GMT 06:44
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