Wednesday, 30 September 2015 08:43

The prospects and issues of Russian-Saudi relations

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This September is a 25-year anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic contacts between Russian Federation and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the level of ambassadors. The countries have many connections. In 1926  Russia was the first non-Islamic country to recognize the state, which eventually (in 1932) became the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And the founder of the state Abdulaziz ibn Saud highly estimated the role of Russia in the world and tended to develop relations with it.

Active political contacts between Russia and the KSA and other GCC countries are just a recent trend. They were encouraged by the important changes on the international arena during that period, the advancement of the common challenges and threats that required joint decisions. The historical visit of Saudi crown prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to Russia in September 2003 has created a new basis for the long-term relations of the two giant states – Russia in the world, and Saudi Arabia on the Arabian Peninsula. 2007 was marked by the first visits in the history to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The economic cooperation was one of the central topics of the negotiations. The parties have reinforced the legal basis of the relations, discussed the conditions and the prospects of the cooperation in oil and gas sector, in the investment, military and technical partnership, development of the transit infrastructure.

The visit of Russian Minister of Foreign affairs Sergei Lavrov to Saudi Arabia in the beginning of November 2011 has not only revealed the balanced approach of Russia towards the complicated situation in the region, but has obviously laid the foundations for the new period of relations between Russia and Arabian oil monarchies. The first joint ministerial meeting on the strategic dialog between the GCC ministers of foreign affairs and Russian minister of foreign affairs during his visit gives evidence of a higher level of cooperation.

I would like to distinguish several vectors of bilateral cooperation that have both important potential for rapprochement and certain difficulties in cooperation, I hope, manageable ones.

  1. The issue of international security. Now it is possible to definitely state the overlapping or similarity of Russian and Saudi positions on the majority of international and regional issues such as the non-proliferation of the WMD, organized crime, drug trafficking, conflict situations in the Middle East and in other regions of the world.

However, there are many problems as well. As Sergey Lavrov has declared in his speech in MGIMO on the 1st of September, “The current lack of cooperation between the big states may cause an irreparable damage to the world order. It is primarily connected to the growth of the terrorist threat”.

In order to minimize the challenge of the international terrorism, that comes from the Middle East as well as from other regions, to prevent the spread of radical Islamism in Russian regions, where the Islamic population prevails, the antiterrorist activity should be coordinated with the Council of GCC and with its particular member countries as well, firstly with the KSA. Our countries are close in their uncompromised position to struggle the international terrorism, which covers itself behind the banners of Islam.

Russia will obviously promote its plans to strengthen the regional security. The Arabic countries paid much attention to Russian concept of security in the Gulf region proposed in 2007, which based on the collective principle with the participation of all the regional and other interested parties. The signing of a corresponding international treaty will not only decrease the level of Iranian-Arabic tensions, but will also significantly improve Russia’s authority in the Gulf region.

During the second ministerial round of the strategic dialog, the parties have confirmed their resolution to further promote the creation of WMD and delivery systems free zone in the Middle East. They have also emphasized the importance of joint work on the preparation to carry the conference envisaged by the decisions of the Review conference of the NPT in 2010.

Regarding the Middle-Eastern peace process and its main vector, I would like to notice, that our countries have close positions in the Israeli-Palestinian settlement, promoting the total and just settlement in the region, which supposes the termination of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories that started in 1967, and the creation of the independent Palestinian state. Our country is firm in its support of the Arab Peace Initiative that was adopted by the League of Arab States.  This document is aimed at achieving the overall peace with Israel and the end of Arabic-Israeli conflict on the main condition of Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967 and its recognition of the Palestinian State on the West Bank and in Gaza strip with the capital in the Eastern Jerusalem. The initiative was proposed by the crown price of Saudi Arabia Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

There are several dimensions of the mechanism of international security maintenance. In the domain of economic security Russia and Saudi Arabia cooperate with other important countries and make joint effort to overcome the aftermath of the global financial and economic crisis within the framework of G20, which is considered the main mechanism for the coordination of approaches towards the global macroeconomic issues, reform of the international financial architecture, the increase of financial sector regulation efficiency.

  1. The strengthening of trust: prospects of cooperation with Islamic political movements. Humanitarian contacts.

Radical religious movements may have a dangerous response in the North Caucasus and Central Asia. Russia should attentively examine the situation as during the last years it has managed to have agreement with all the existing regimes that they will control their radical Muslims.

As a result, in the middle of the 90ies the influx of radical Muslims from these countries to our North Caucasus region has almost stopped. If the current uprisings and anarchy do not stop, and the overthrown regimes leave nothing but vacuum of power, Russia, as well as many Western countries and Israel, should be concerned, as the radicalization and Islamization of certain countries without leadership become imminent.

The positions of the parties towards the religious issues have a specific importance in the complex of the relations. The fact that Saudi Arabia is a particular center of spiritual life for Muslims from all over the world, that it is a guardian of the Islamic holy places, attributes an utmost importance to this domain. Russian politics towards Islam is based on the humanitarian element as well. The Saudi funds subsidize the pilgrimage of thousands of Russians to the holy places, building and reconstruction of mosques, and provide humanitarian aid. During the talks in UAE in November 2011 Sregey Lavrov has declared: “We are thankful to the leadership of Saudi Arabia for the constant attention to the needs of Russian pilgrims.” The first Russian Orthodox Church on the Arabian Peninsula was built in Sharjah (UAE) under the cooperation of the leadership of this country.

Russia thankfully accepts the support given to our country by Saudi Arabia which it received getting the observer status in the Organization of Islamic Conference (now – OIC).

The strengthening of trust, the increase of knowledge about each other between the peoples of Russia and the KSA, are extremely important to develop bilateral relations. Russian Ambassador to the KSA Oleg Ozerov has assessed the state of current Russian-Saudi relations as “…the sufficient experience of cooperation has not been accumulated yet, and the lack of knowledge about each other is visible. A complex approach is required to correct the not always correct perceptions about each other and improve understanding of the realities: to use personal and business contacts, to increase intergovernmental ties and to implement the means of “soft diplomacy’, mainly the ones of intercultural dialogue that should consider the particularities of both countries.” (“International Life. №11, 2011). It is possible to add that the development of studies of the languages of the partner countries is quite valuable.

In order to increase the efficiency of the cooperation on the intergovernmental level, the social institutes should be involved in this process; the humanitarian exchange should be intensified. Scientific contacts, youth and NGO delegations exchange will strengthen the trust between Russia and countries of the Arabian Peninsula. During the talks the parties have agreed to cooperate in the higher education and scientific research by maintaining contacts between universities and think tanks.

MGIMO is involved in shaping the Arabian vector of Russia’s foreign policy. The Center of Arabic language studies was opened in the University in March 2009. It was created at the initiative of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and he funded it as well. In November 2007 the crown prince was granted a title of MGIMO Dr. h.c. There are established regular contacts, student and professor exchange between MGIMO and scientific and educational centers of Saudi Arabia. Highly qualified graduates of our University implement the knowledge acquired during their studies in their diplomatic service in Russian embassies in the GCC countries. The employees of the Center of Middle Eastern studies of MGIMO propose the improvements for the mechanism of cooperation of our country with the Arabian states in their analytic research.

The creation of an adequate information space through the organization of days of culture and science, exhibitions, support of Russian and international printed and online media, radio and television in the respective countries is an effective measure in this direction.

  1. Economic cooperation

A new level of economic cooperation is required. Once kerosene oil was the most important article of Soviet export to KSA. International economic relations are essentially on a new stage of development. Thus, it is desirable to:

  • Promote the creation of a positive climate for the increase of bilateral trade (e.g. to create new free-trade zones) and investments through the stimulation of contacts between the representatives of business circles in order to use the investment capacities of the parties;
  • Develop the cooperation in industry, transit, communications, agriculture, tourism and healthcare;
  • Continue the cooperation in the energy and conduct joint meetings of experts and technical professionals, and cooperate in the peaceful atom, energy security and renewable sources of energy;
  • Start the creation of projects in peaceful space exploration;
  • Attract funds of GCC countries to upgrade Russian economy – implement the newest medical, energy and information technologies, develop space and telecom systems, decisive increase of energy efficiency

There is a good basis of the development of hi-tech cooperation. In his speech in Sochi on the 1st September 2015 Vladimir Putin asked “Will we create unique technologies ourselves, make a breakthrough in the economy, or envy the triumphs of others?”. It is an eternal question. Today both our countries may answer this question in favor of their national interests in cooperation with friendly countries.

The composite indexes of Saudi Arabia’s economic growth confirm its potential attractiveness as an international economic partner.

Considering the dynamics it is impossible not to mention that the KSA and Oman are among top 10 countries with the greatest progress in the humanitarian development, even without taking into consideration the performance of national economies.

Among the countries of the Arab world Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt are by far the most invested ones. According to UNCTAD, before the crisis, in 2007, the net influx of FDI in these countries was 12, 11 and 5 billion dollars respectively. Thus, Russian investors will get new opportunities with the opening of the Arabian capital markets.

However there are several restrictions:

  • The GCC countries compete with Russia not only in the energy markets. They produce 12% of world chemicals and fertilizers, and are an important player in the aluminum market. From the point of view of the development of trade relations with this group of countries such structure does not allow to definitely state the initial predisposition of Russian and Arabian economies for the intense exchange of services and goods. The similarity of industrial structures makes the countries search for the contact points on the intrasectoral level and in the industrial cooperation, including the orientation on the markets of the third countries.
  • Unfinished process of market liberalization that complicates the activity of economic partners, at least in small business
  • On the Arabian Peninsula Russian companies face competition from Western, Chinese and Indian ones (supported by their states) mainly regarding big contracts.
  • Differences in business model. Islamic economy.

 

The Arabian markets in their broad definition are a difficult target for Russian business. Continuous economic orientation of these countries to the West, South-Eastern and Eastern Asia, abundance of consumer and investment products challenge the strategy of Russian entrepreneurs and state’s economic institutions. Thus, I would like to present a hypothesis that the industrial cooperation on the basis of mutual exchange of direct investments, technologies and qualified workforce will become the “launching pad” of the renewal of the whole system of business partnership, instead of the trade exchange, which is prioritized by a number of notorious Russian arabists. Entering the peninsula through the “investment gates” seems more realistic.

Consequently, Russia has wide prospects for the development of cooperation with Saudi Arabia. A task–oriented and balanced policy is required in order to implement all the opportunities. It should be aimed at securing economic and political goals of our country in this region. A mechanism of multilateral cooperation with the KSA is currently being created. The adaptation of such approach is quite realistic.

Read 8664 times Last modified on Wednesday, 30 September 2015 08:59