MOSCOW, Oct 5, (Agencies): Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Thursday opened talks in the first official visit of a Saudi monarch to Russia. At the Kremlin’s opulent St. Andrew’s Hall, Putin in televised remarks hailed the king’s visit as a “landmark” event. Salman in his reply called Russia a “friendly nation” and said his country is committed to strengthen ties “in the interests of peace and security.” Relations between the two countries have often been strained. During Cold War times, the Saudis helped arm Afghan rebels fighting against the Soviet invasion.
The kingdom, much like Russia, has been hit by the fall in oil prices since mid-2014. Despite regional disagreements, the two major oil-producing nations found common ground on energy policy in November, when they led a deal between OPEC and non-OPEC states to cut production in a bid to shore up crude prices. So far that deal is holding.
Analysts say Salman’s trip to Moscow is the clearest sign yet that Russia’s strategy in the Middle East, including its high-risk show of military power in Syria, has paid off. Salman’s visit caps off a number of visits to Russia over the past two years by Gulf royals, including by his heir and son. The Saudi monarch’s visit comes after decades of strained relations. Since the Saudi state’s founding 85 years ago, the kingdom and Russia have been on opposite sides of major conflicts — Saudi Arabia sided with the US in the Cold War, and helped arm mujahidin fighters against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in 1979-1989.
More recently, tensions were high over the war in Syria. Russia and Iran have staunchly backed Syrian President Assad while Saudi Arabia has supported the Sunni rebels fighting to oust him. However, relations have begun to improve in recent years and Salman’s heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has held several meetings with Putin. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia signed on Thursday preliminary agreements to buy S-400 air defence systems and receive “cutting edge technologies” from Russia during King Salman’s landmark visit to Moscow, the Saudi military industries firm said.
Under the agreements, Saudi Arabia is set to buy S-400 air defence systems, Kornet anti-tank guided missile systems and multiple rocket launchers. These agreements are “expected to play a pivotal role in the growth and development of the military and military systems industry in Saudi Arabia,” Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI), the Sunni state’s military industries firm said. “The memorandum of understanding includes the transfer of technology for the local production” of the Kornet anti-tank guided missile systems, advanced multiple rocket launchers and automatic grenade launchers.
“In addition, the parties will cooperate in setting a plan to localise the manufacturing and sustainment of parts of the S-400 air defence system,” SAMI said. The two countries also agreed on the production in Saudi Arabia of the Kalashnikov automatic rifle and its ammunition as well as educational and training programmes for Saudi nationals.
“These agreements are expected to have tangible economic contributions and create hundreds of direct jobs,” the company said. They “will also transfer cutting edge technologies that will act as a catalyst for localising 50 percent of the Kingdom’s military spending.” Rosoboron export, Russia’s state owned arms exporter, had no immediate comment on the agreements. In related news, King Salman has overseen some important changes in Saudi Arabia since he inherited the throne from his elderly half-brother King Abdullah nearly three years ago.
As he holds talks in Moscow on the first official visit to Russia by a Saudi king, here is a look back at some of the developments during his reign. Changes at top On Jan 23, 2015 Salman accedes to the throne at the age of 79 after the death of Abdullah, aged about 90. He makes key changes in the order of succession, choosing his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef as deputy crown prince and promoting his son Prince Mohammed bin Salman to defence minister.
In June the same year, he raises his son, aged 31, to the position of crown prince, completing a gradual removal of powers from Mohammed bin Nayef. War in Yemen In March 2015, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia launches an air campaign against Shiite Huthi rebels and their allies in Yemen in support of President Abad Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Coalition members deploy troops in Yemen.
The Arab coalition has been criticised for civilian casualties caused in air strikes. Deals with Washington US President Donald Trump visits Saudi Arabia in May 2017 on his first foreign trip since taking office. Washington and Riyadh announce major contracts worth more than $380 billion, including $110 billion for the sale of American arms to Saudi Arabia aimed at countering what they see as a threat from Iran and radical Islamists. Qatar crisis In June 2017, Saudi Arabia and several Gulf allies and Egypt sever diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting “terrorists” and being too close to Iran. They also take economic measures against Qatar, including closing air and maritime links and sealing the country’s only land border. Doha rejects the accusations.