The visit of The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud to Russia is of immense significance as it is the first official visit of a Saudi ruler to that country, although relations between the countries were established about 90 years ago.
However, there have been several official visits by Saudi officials to Russia over the last 30 years. In 1987, former Saudi oil minister Hisham Nazer visited Moscow to discuss oil prices and the market’s stability.
Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal also visited Moscow later that year. Former president of Youth Welfare, Faisal bin Fahd had also visited the Soviet Union once, within his official capacity and within the context of his sports-related work.
King Salman’s visit has enhanced the context of Saudi diplomatic efforts made during the years gone byHassan Al Mustafa
Prince Bandar’s visits
When Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, Prince Bandar bin Sultan visited the Soviet Union at the end of August and met then President Mikhail Gorbachev. Prince Bandar, who was dispatched by late King Fahd bin Abdulaziz, discussed three matters with Gorbachev:
1. The stance on the invasion of Kuwait as he confirmed that Riyadh rejects the operation and aggression launched by Iraq and its invasion of a neighboring country as a violation of international charters. He sought to clarify the Saudi point of view and to convince Moscow that the Saudi stance is the right one so that Russia takes diplomatic and practical measures to pressure Baghdad.
2. Helping Muslims in the Soviet Union and sending around a million copies of the Quran to them
3. Providing financial help to the Soviet Union as part of a general international campaign to support it. The Saudi kingdom set the condition that the aid it provides goes to Muslim republics of the union.
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Following months of patience and fruitless peace attempts to liberate Kuwait, Saudi Arabia adopted a military solution. Prince Bandar bin Sultan visited Moscow again and explained to Gorbachev what Riyadh will do. They discussed the war and what it may entail.
Later on, Abdulaziz Khoja was appointed as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Moscow. Then-Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz visited it in 2004. In 2006, Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, who was governor of Riyadh at the time, visited Moscow as well. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Riyadh in 2007. After that, then-Minister of Defense Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz visited Moscow.
Visits during Putin’s term
During Putin’s term, former secretary general of the National Security Council Prince Bandar bin Sultan visited Moscow six times – two of these visits were not announced. During these visits, they discussed the war in Syria and ties with Iran.
They also addressed economic, military, security and intelligence cooperation between them, oil-related matters and oil prices in addition to cooperation to combat terrorism. These discussions helped develop both countries’ opinions over thorny issues.
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Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman – before being appointed crown prince - made several visits to Russia since 2015. These visits created business partnerships and resulted in important political agreements.
King Salman’s visit has enhanced the context of Saudi diplomatic efforts made during the years gone by. The visit confirms strong ties and helps create a regional safety net that decreases tension and seeks to put out the fire of wars that are raging in the Arab world. It also helps in the combat against terrorism, which is a mutual enemy.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Hassan AlMustafa is Saudi journalist with interest in middle east and Gulf politics. His writing focuses on social media, Arab youth affairs and Middle Eastern societal matters. His twitter handle is @halmustafa.