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Saudi Arab leans towards Russia

Saudi Arab leans towards Russia
Once a tool of the US to disrupt the Russian economy by deliberately keeping the oil prices down, Saudi Arabia has Hobson's choice now! With Moscow's successful mission to prevent regime change in Syria and its strong bonding with Tehran, Saudi Arabia appears to be bowing down before Russia. After losing all on all fronts from Syria to Yemen and diminishing regional hold to Iran and Turkey, the weak and susceptible Riyadh finally surrendered to the ultimate ghostbuster, Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Moscow-Washington reset apart, the Saudi advisers must have known that the Kremlin won't ditch its strategic relationship with Iran – one of the key nodes of Eurasia integration. As a part of its invincible 'four plus one' grouping of Russia-Syria-Iran-Iraq plus Hezbollah, Moscow maintained its alliance with Tehran. And, that did not prohibit Russia's marriage of convenience in the Arab world, including with Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, and Libya. On the other hand, as Moscow was alarmed with Saudi's 'dubious' role in financing Salafi-jihadi outfits inside Russia, it allowed Riyadh a chance to clear its detachment from incidents like the rise of jihadism in Tatarstan and Chechnya. Without giving much attention to Iran's moves, Russia – the key negotiator of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – understands that Iran's ballistic missile program is actually the key target of Trump's imminent decertification of the Iran deal. As these missiles actually represent deterrence against any possible US attack, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), in Tehran, has made it quite clear that since the ballistic missile program was not a part of the JCPOA, it will remain active. Meanwhile, after Iran and Turkey – Saudi Arabia finally inked the memorandum of understanding with Rosoboronexport (Russia's state body for exporting military hardware), for the purchase of the S-400 missile system, the Kornet-EM system, the TOS-1A, the AGS-30, besides the new Kalashnikov AK-103. Now, even though geopolitics and military operations in the Middle East now are occupying most headlines, the Saudi-Russian rapprochement will also have economic consequences. Riyadh's leadership of OPEC is still undisputed, as it has displayed over the last several years. Saudi Arabia's eagerness to counter the free-fall of oil prices has been successful, but a much bigger effort is required to bring prices back to USD 60-75 per barrel. Russia's role as the largest of the non-OPEC producers has been substantial, bringing in not only several emerging producers but also by putting pressure on its allies—Iran, Venezuela and Algeria. Notably, the historically important Moscow-Riyadh cooperation in oil and gas is unprecedented. Without Russia's support, an overall compliance with the OPEC production cut agreement would have been very low, leading to even lower oil prices. The Saudi-Russian rapprochement could, however, be seen as a threat by the West and the OPEC itself. Western influence in the region has waned since the end of the 1990s, not only due to the peace dividend of NATO but especially because the countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are moving away from oil. Saudi Arabia had to find new markets, which happened with China and India. The Saudi future is no longer based on the Western customers or their support but lies in Asia and other emerging regions. For OPEC, the Moscow-Riyadh love affair could also pose a threat. Throughout OPEC's history, Riyadh has been the main power broker in the oil cartel, pushing forward price and production strategies. It is also apparent that Riyadh had realised that with the great Eurasia integration caravan getting acceleration, it must not be left for counting the tides. While Russia has pipelines crisscrossing most of Eurasia, another super-power, China, is building rail lines connecting all of Eurasia. Though it would be too early to identify the Saudi pivot to Russia as the shift of the century, it would surely be a certified game-changer. However, the feature of Salman's visit to Moscow was a promise by the two countries to carry forward their agreement to cut oil production. Putin disclosed that the deal to cut oil output to boost prices could be extended until the end of 2018. Describing his talks with the Saudi king as 'very substantive, informative and very trusting', Putin has also expressed hope of cooperation on nuclear energy and space exploration, along with an infrastructure and arms deals between Moscow and Riyadh. As Saudi Arabia is leaning toward Moscow in solving the Syrian crisis, the question that arises is, how strong are their ties with Russia? As Salman is aiming at a geopolitical shift in the Middle East, it has now become evident that the Saudi and Russian leaders have decided to shift their focus towards common interests. Nonetheless, a growing positive Putin vibe in the Arab world is now clear and it has become the focal point of interest for the Arab regimes.

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