For the first time in over a decade Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Saudi Arabia to discuss several regional issues with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud boosting ties on military and technical cooperation.
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On Monday, Putin arrived in Riyadh, where he held talks with Saudi officials and oversaw the signing of 20 agreements worth billions of dollars.
During a meeting with the Russian leader, King Salman praised relations between the two countries, especially energy deals, saying, “We look forward to working with Russia to achieve security and stability and fight terrorism.”
Putin, for his part, said in a statement issued during the visit that “Russia sees the expansion of friendly and mutually beneficial ties with Saudi Arabia as particularly important.”
Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin and King Salman had discussed “military and technical cooperation.”
Asked about the possible sale of Russian S-400 missile systems to Saudi Arabia, he said, “there is nothing to say yet, there are plans.”
Following talks between Putin and King Salman, the two countries inked deals in the fields of petroleum and other energy industries, space and satellite navigation, justice, health services, tax administration, mineral wealth, tourism and aviation, culture and trade.
Key among the accords was the one on bolstering cooperation between the so-called OPEC+ countries — the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries plus 10 non-members.
Speaking at the signing ceremony of the agreements, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman highlighted that the two countries had started a new phase of cooperation, adding that the agreements were meant to “develop many economic and development fields ... and strengthen trade relations.”
Separately, Saudi Minister of Commerce and Investment Majid bin Abdullah al-Qasabi tweeted that the kingdom had granted four investment licenses to Russian companies specializing in construction and real estate development, information technology, financial consulting, and architecture
Putin also sat down with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader.
According to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the two sides reviewed aspects of Saudi-Russian relations and domains of bilateral cooperation, exchanging views on the latest developments in the region, especially the situation in Syria and Yemen.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin had further discussed oil prices with both King Salman and the crown prince.
“A substantial exchange of opinions took place, on regional problems, on situation at the energy markets, or on oil prices, to keep it simple,” he said.
The Russian president will head to the United Arab Emirates later on Tuesday.
Putin's visit comes at a time of significant developments in the Middle East.
For one thing, Turkey is in the midst of a military operation against Kurdish militants, who have been abandoned by the US, in northern Syria.
Russia and Saudi Arabia are on two opposite sides of the conflict in Syria. Moscow has supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Riyadh has sponsored Takfiri militant groups fighting to topple the Damascus government.
Another conflict that has been plaguing the region for several years is the one involving Yemen on the one side and the Saudi-led military coalition on the other. Saudi Arabia has not only failed to achieve its objective of installing an allied government in its southern neighbor, but has also become increasingly vulnerable to retaliatory strikes by Yemen's Houthi fighters.
Prior to his trip, Putin said that Russia could play a positive role in easing tensions in the Persian Gulf following a spate of suspicious attacks on oil tankers in the strategic waters as well as Yemen’s mid-September raid on Saudi oil facilities.
Saudi Arabia and the US have blamed Iran for the incidents. But the accusations have been outright rejected by Tehran.
Last week, an Iranian tanker also came under attack near the Saudi port city of Jeddah by two missiles fired from an unknown location. Tehran says it is investigating the case.