Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave Russian strongman Vladimir Putin a warm welcome to Riyadh on Wednesday, proclaiming him a “cherished guest” of the country and signing a variety of agreements on space, sports, investment, energy, defense, and tourism, among other subjects.
Putin is currently engaging in a multi-state tour of the Middle East that takes in the United Arab Emirates, a traditional ally of Moscow’s. Saudi Arabia has for decades aligned itself against Iran and more closely to the United States, but bin Salman and the de jure ruler of Saudi Arabia, King Salman, have drifted away from American influence under leftist President Joe Biden.
Biden promised as a presidential candidate to turn Saudi Arabia into a “pariah” nation in response to the gruesome killing of Islamist writer Jamal Khashoggi.
Since then, Saudi Arabia has restored diplomatic relations with Iran, halted a slow process of seeking peace with neighboring Israel, and joined BRICS, an economic and security coalition led by China and largely postured against the United States. BRICS is an acronym standing for its original members, Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.
As president, Biden has attempted to restore the ties damaged by his comments, including with a notorious visit to Saudi Arabia in July 2022, in which the crown prince greeted him with a distant fist bump.
Bin Salman offered Putin a much warmer greeting this week, a hearty handshake broadcast via Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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In remarks before the press on Wednesday, both Bin Salman and Putin enthusiastically praised the bilateral relationship between Russia and Saudi Arabia.
“I would like to reiterate, Mr President, that you are a cherished guest here in Saudi Arabia. We welcome you on behalf of its government and its people,” Bin Salman emphasized, according to an English-language transcript of his and Putin’s remarks published by the Kremlin.
“Much has happened in our relations during this time, but over the past seven years, they have certainly reached a truly unprecedented level,” Putin beamed. “This was achieved owing to the wise policy of your father, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King of Saudi Arabia with your direct participation.”
The two countries published an extensive joint statement following closed-door talks between the two leaders, vowing to engage in joint projects in a variety of fields. Energy was on the top of the list, as both countries are members of OPEC+, an oil cartel, and have supported each other through cutting oil production to raise international prices.
Saudi Arabia’s support for oil cuts has led to sharp criticism from the Biden administration, which has accused Riyadh of supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by keeping oil prices high. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky personally refuted such allegations and thanked the Saudi crown prince for supporting Ukraine.
The joint statement offered no specifics on any oil cooperation, and Putin’s top spokesman Dmitry Peskov also failed to offer clarity.
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“Of course, they talked about cooperation within OPEC+. The parties are interested,” Peskov told reporters after the meeting. “The parties agree that our countries shoulder an enormous responsibility for cooperation so as to support the international energy market at a proper level and in a stable and predictable condition. This cooperation will be continued.”
Most concerning regarding the joint statement was a promise to “enhance defense cooperation, in a way that supports and achieves common interests between the two countries.” The statement did not specify if such cooperation included arms sales or material support for their particular defense interests, including the Ukraine invasion for Russia or containing the threat of Iran-backed Houthi terrorists in Yemen for Saudi Arabia. The statement instead vague noted that the two leaders “affirmed their desire to strengthen existing security cooperation and coordination on issues of common interest.”
The statement notably did not include any indication that bin Salman expressed support for the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
In contrast, the statement reflected the official attitude of the Saudi kingdom towards the ongoing conflict between Israel and the genocidal terrorist group Hamas. Russia reportedly supported the Saudi position that, in response to the unprecedented atrocities Hamas committed on October 7, a “Palestinian” state should be carved out of Israel based “on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
The two countries, both dictatorships that regularly abuse the rights of their citizens, also announced “a cooperation agreement between the two countries in the judicial field regarding civil and commercial matters.” It is not clear how Putin’s strongman dictatorship and the Saudi Sharia system could cooperate on matters of law.