King Salman tries to balance ties by visiting Moscow

In a major shift towards Russia, Saudi Arabia has agreed to sign a $3bn weapons deal with Moscow for buying most advanced air defense missile system, the S400 Triumph and indicated its intention to buy aircraft and helicopters. Meanwhile, US have approved selling $15bn THAAD system to the Kingdom.

The S400Triumph, an anti-aircraft weapon, developed in 1990 by Russia’s Almaz Central Design Bureau, has been described, as of 2017, as “one of the best air-defense systems currently made.”

According to Sputnik News, the government of Saudi Arabia is seeking to diversify its foreign policy, including expanding cooperation with Moscow. However, it does not mean a total reshuffle of the Kingdom’s strategic international ties.

According to Bloomberg, Saudi Arabia will also buy anti-tank weapons and multiple rocket launchers. The two countries will also set up a joint military-technical cooperation commission, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has said.

The $3bn weapon deal with Moscow came at a time, when US government has also approved the possible sale of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) worth $15bn to Saudi Arabia.  It is considered to be the most capable anti missile batteries in the US arsenal which has already been supplied to Qatar and UAE. It is equipped with an advanced radar system.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz arrived in Moscow on a four-day visit on Wednesday, for the first ever visit along with 1000-strong delegation comprising high profile officials and businessmen.

King Salman and President Vladimir Putin have discussed a wide range of issues, including Syrian conflict, the situation in the Middle East and the fight against terrorism on Thursday. The agreements reached between the two countries are spread into cooperation in the military and technical spheres, energy and investment.

According to Vladimir Putin the talks with Saudi monarch were a “landmark event.” The King expressed his desire to continue cooperation with Russia to maintain stability in the oil market.

King Salman called Russia a “friendly” country and told Putin that their talks will boost the global economy as well as help create international stability and security. Putin has reportedly accepted King’s invitation to visit Saudi Arabia.

Earlier on Wednesday, while responding to a question, during energy forum in Moscow, about whether Saudi Arabia will always align with US on geopolitical issues, President Vladimir Putin had said, “Is there really anything in the world that’s absolutely permanent? It seems to me, on the contrary, that everything’s changing.”

The visit is considered to be the result of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s efforts, who built friendly ties with Putin during his first visit to Russia in 2015 as his country’s defense minister.

Russia and Saudi Arabia remained at odds on the conflict in Syria. Russia supported President Basher al-Assad regime while Saudis supported opposition groups. Riyadh has also been concerned about Moscow’s close cooperation with Tehran.

According to Nidal Sabea, a Lebanese political analyst, “Saudi Arabia is a strategic partner of the United States and that situation will not change. At the same time, the Saudi government understands the need to expand its international ties, including with Russia, China and other countries.”

Russian media reports that King Salman said that his opinion on Syrian settlement coincides with Moscow’s position while Riyadh also seeks a political solution that would guarantee Syria’s stability and territorial integrity.

However, there is no report if King Salman tried to pursue Putin for the removal of Assad regime in Damascus. Syrian forces along with Iranian military advisors and fighters from Hezbollah having patronage of Russian air force have successfully fought against IS (Daesh).

US administration, Israel and Saudi Arabia have been supporting Assad’s opposition for last several years. Earlier Turkey and Qatar were also supporting Assad opponents. However, with the changed scenario, Ankara and Doha were now treading towards Tehran.