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New old friend is better than two? The meeting of Medvedev and Saud al-Faisal
Material posted: Pankratenko Igor N.Publication date: 09-04-2011

Reports of the meeting held on 25 March between the President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev and Minister of foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) Prince Saud al-Faisal were extremely skimpy and fit in a couple of paragraphs of news feeds as Russian[1]and Arabic[2] news agencies.

The essence of the messages boiled down to the fact that Saudi Prince, had brought a verbal message from king Abdullah, met with President Dmitry Medvedev. The talks were attended by his Advisor on international Affairs Sergei Prikhodko and foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. During the meeting the Russian side was interested in not only Libya, but also the introduction of troops in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, expressing hope that their "efforts will contribute to stabilizing the situation". Also it was reported that the Saudi leader had held the idea of the necessity of close coordination of policies of Saudi Arabia and Russia in the middle East and North Africa in light of the events in the region "major events".

Saud al-Faisal reaffirmed the principled attitude of the leadership of his country and personally by king Abdullah to further improve and develop relations of friendship and cooperation in all fields between Saudi Arabia and the Russian Federation[3].

Scarce information was accompanied with the defaults (for example, press-service of the Kremlin decided to announce that together with Prince Saud arrived in Moscow and head of the Saudi General intelligence Mukran bin Abdul Aziz) and interesting applications in the KSA, that is called "for internal use". Exactly on the day of admission Medvedev Prince Faisal, the Saudi media has been widely replicated in the Friday prayer al-Taleb, which stated the following: "current circumstances require the hardness... now there is no place for negotiations, all efforts should be made to preserve his security in the homeland and religion"[4].

Of course, that such information "support" the visit raises a host of questions. For me the main of them – that understands Saudi Arabia under the joint coordination of policy, what steps Russia should do and, more importantly, how beneficial it is Russia that "further improvement and development of relations of friendship and cooperation in all fields".

But before you answer questions, try to give their assessment of the existing Russian-Saudi relations and their possible prospects.


By 2003, measures for international security of the Russian position on Chechnya (the conflict around which was the main source of tension in Russian-Saudi relations) gave a positive result. The Russian Federation and the CSA have become more friendly and the visit by Vladimir Putin in 2007 in Riyadh strengthened the normalization of relations as a fait accompli.

This visit was widely publicized in the Russian media, and a number of "on-call" analysts hastened with statements like "Saudi Arabia turns away from the West and turns to Russia"[5].

However, this is characteristic of a considerable part of the Russian expert community – any visit to present as another victory of Russian diplomacy and the evidence of growth of authority of Russia in the international arena.

The reason for this "optimism" and ease the extraordinary statements is that "scientific experts", as a rule, completely overlooked the economic component of bilateral relations. And even when given some statistical results are given without comparison with indicators of third countries.

Perhaps this is done in order not to spoil the optimistic projections. After all, any analysis of economic indicators is proclaimed by the Russian side of the CSA turn to Russia in a different light.

Today in the foreign trade balance of Saudi Arabia, the share of Russia is:

- export of 0.06% ( CP: Japan and 15.3%, South Korea 12.7 per cent, the USA with 12.2%, China 10.4 per cent)

- import of 0.02% (CP: USA - 12.32%, China 12.06%, Germany 7.67%, Japan 6.15%, South Korea 5.32%, India 4.99%, UK 4.72%, France 4.05%)[6].

The main part of the turnover $136,3 million is accounted for by Russian exports. The Russian Federation supplies to Saudi Arabia ferrous metals, grain, wood, lumber, paper, and cardboard. Imports from Saudi Arabia include chemical and consumer goods, the volume of which in monetary terms is not exceeded in 2003, $2.1 million would Like to note that the active trade balance of Saudi Arabia every year increases significantly. Even after the fall in oil prices in 1973, the value of exports exceeded the value of imports. Active trade balance of 2005 was estimated at 100-120 billion.

Against the background of indicators of trade surplus of CSA and share in it by other countries to speak about any "rotation", and even more so – about the likelihood of the "special relationship", at least naively. That, in fact, confirmed by the realities of everyday life. Joint projects implemented by Saudi and Russian companies can be called only ophthalmic center established in the Kingdom MNTK microsurgery eyes. of academician S. N. Fedorov and Saudi company Medical Projects, the signing in March 2003 of the agreements between OAO Stroytransgaz and companies Saudi Aramco and Saudi Oger on partnership in oil and gas projects in the Arabian Peninsula. The last major development was signed in March 2004, the contract between OAO LUKOIL and the Ministry of petroleum and mineral resources Kingdom for exploration and development of gas condensate unit, located next to the largest Saudi oil field, Gavar.

If to speak about possible investment, the receipt of which is one Russian leadership, the picture looks no better.

The only real example of this kind is created in 1991 on equal rights SP "Petrosakh", which became "Nimr Sakhalin" and "SAMEKO" representing the interests of State management of fuel and energy Sakhalin island.

Plans Dubai-based Novaar Capital Management (NCM), owned by Saudi Prince Saud bin Mansour al Saud, to invest $750 million in infrastructure projects in the Urals (it was about establishing a joint venture with OJSC "Corporation "Ural industrial – Ural Polar"[7]) the plans and left.

However, Russian business meets Saudi counterparts to full investment in return. According to the statistics given by Saudi businessmen, the Russians have invested in the Dubai economy over $15 billion in the economy of the whole of Saudi Arabia – only a few million[8]. The largest until 2008, Russian investors in the Bay area, "Rooster" Rafik Gubaev and "Ross" Eugene Temkin preferred investment in Saudi Arabia investment in United Arab Emirates.


Speaking about cooperation with Saudi Arabia it is necessary to mention two areas that were due to some of their "delicacy" did not receive wide media coverage.

In April 2010, the government of Saudi Arabia announced the creation of a centre for nuclear studies named after king Abdullah led by the former trade Minister HaShem bin Abdullah Yamani[9].

In December of the same year, talks were held on possible participation of Russia in this project[10].

Possible scope for the "special relationship"? No, because already in July 2010 a Protocol on cooperation in nuclear energy was signed between KSA and France, and the us-Saudi agreement in this area relate to 2008. To be a monopoly Russia will not have to. Moreover, as the experience of the leader in the field of use of atomic energy in the countries of the GCC (the cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf), United Arab Emirates, in the construction of nuclear reactors in the Gulf countries prefer South Korea and not Russia[11]. I note in passing that the development of nuclear technology by member countries of the CCG takes place quietly, “under the guise of” fighting Iran's nuclear program.

A second, equally sensitive sphere of Russian-Saudi relations – arms trade.

Actually, the fact actually trade fairly well-known. But the true state of Affairs in this sphere it is known only in narrow circles.

During the visit, Vladimir Putin, foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Saud al-Faisal said that no specific obstacles to cooperation in this field.

Almost immediately appeared in the media reports about the possibility of signing contracts between Russia and KSA in the amount of $4 billion.

The subject of negotiations was the purchase by Saudi Arabia 150 T-90 tanks, 100 Mi-17 and Mi-35, 100 BMP-3, 20 air defense systems.

Given the fact that the KSA has allocated for the purchase of equipment of $12 billion, one third of this money for Russia was very good money, and delivery was scheduled for the 2008-2009 year.

Enthusiastically discussing the prospects of the contract, some analysts have overlooked two very important things:

  • Question about purchasing a CSA military equipment from Russia was raised Saudi side after the U.S. Senate discussed the issue of adjusting the volumes and terms of deliveries of military equipment in Saudi Arabia aside, the Saudis considered disadvantageous,
  • Before the beginning of negotiations with Russia, Saudi Arabia led negotiations with France, however, the agreements have not been achieved because of the demands of the French party to include in the list of purchased weapons naval technique[12].

In fact, the negotiations with Russia were a game, aiming to put pressure on the U.S. Senate and West European partners, to force them to "move up" in price and delivery terms. Another was to expect, at least naively, given that the basis of the arms of the Gulf are American and Western European samples.

The game the Saudis received informational support and American arms manufacturers that the hearings in Congress on granting gunsmiths exemptions, credits, and special conditions of the export of weapons to countries of the Gulf said: "if the Saudis will not be on preferential terms to buy from us, they will buy from Russians."

It worked, the game failed. And the end of Russian hopes for the implementation of the multi-billion dollar transaction failed a month ago, the head of Rosoboronexport Anatoly Isaikin: "Enclosed is another small, by our standards, a contract for several tens of millions of dollars. Other topics are under discussion. We conveyed the offer to those arms that would get Saudi Arabia, and is waiting for a response"[13]. I suspect that a positive answer will have to wait a very long time.


However, in Russian-Saudi relations is a field that is developing very rapidly. They seek a key role in the Sunni world, to consolidate its status as the highest authority in matters of faith[14], Saudi Arabia to actively penetrate in the Muslim Ummah of Russia. Today in Russia registered and operate branches and representatives of the Saudi charitable Islamic society, "Ibrahim al Ibrahim", Islamic cultural center, financed mainly by the Saudis. In 2008 the king of Saudi Arabia has initiated construction of the Moscow mosque and Islamic cultural center: "If the Russian authorities will be able to provide land, then Saudi Arabia will take over the financing of the construction"[15]. Already in the process of writing a message came from Kazan[16], which will host the opening of the Library named after the custodian of the two Holy mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud on the basis of the Russian Islamic University (RIU). The project was funded by the Saudi side. To participate in the opening ceremony of arrived extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Saudi Arabia in Russia Ali Hassan Jaafar and Deputy Minister of culture and information of the country Abdel Aziz bin Saleh bin Salama. And completely unnoticed passed the message on an interesting proposal, the representatives of Saudi Arabia to the government of Tatarstan to consider the possibility of an exchange authorized to represent the interests of Tatarstan and Saudi Arabia "on the ground"[17].

No less interesting is the fact that the Islamic University in Medina, where the Russian students were on the lines of the Spiritual administrations of Muslims of Russia, in recent times prefer to recruit prospective students themselves, through their special representatives in the Russian regions.

It should be noted that the KSA authorities themselves are concerned about the increasing activity of citizens, transgressors of the boundaries of the official Islamic ideology of the Kingdom of Wahhabism (Salafism). Member of the editorial Board of "Dar al Hayat" Dawud al-Siryani rightly observes about this: "there is No doubt that Saudi Arabia is opposed to a political revolt. Still she managed not to use him in the suppression of the army, as the rebellion developed under the young people raised religious slogans, which, however, differ little from the religious slogans of the Saudi state"[18]. And if itself the official ideology of KSA forms of people, constituting a problem for the Kingdom, then should we expect that the same ideology that brought about on Russian soil will yield the peaceful fruit?


Summing up the consideration of the Russian-Saudi relations would like to quote very revealing, in my opinion the exchange of speeches, held in may last year at the meeting Deputy Chairman of state Duma Committee on energy Valery ot with representatives of the parliamentary group of the Consultative Council of Saudi Arabia. The parties ' positions on the issues of cooperation he describes quite clearly.

Deputy Chairman of state Duma Committee on energy Valery Yazev: "We believe Saudi Arabia is a priority state for cooperation. And we welcome the fact that key positions in foreign policy we have a similar position. We are talking about the Palestinian and Israeli question, Iran's nuclear program. Created a friendship group with the consultative Council of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Today leading Russian energy companies to work with Saudi Arabia. However, some of the unresolved issues I would attribute the low turnover, which is only half a billion dollars a year".

The head of the delegation of the parliamentary group of the Consultative Council of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia relations with the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation , Mohammad bin al-Salim: "Saudi Arabia has always sought and seeks to develop relations with all peaceful Nations. Including with Russia, which is a permanent member of the UN Security Council... We are also interested in exchange of experience of legislative work and the development of humanitarian contacts. In particular, in the field of education.

On behalf of the head of the Majlis ash-Shura, we would like to send an invitation to the Chairman of the state Duma and representatives of the Deputy group of the state Duma for relations with the Majlis al-Shura to visit Saudi Arabia"[19].

I believe that I have set out facts sufficient to formulate the following conclusions:

The Russian-Saudi relationship today is very pragmatic partnerships based on the recognition of the existence of a joint though, but very limited in the nature of interest.

The Russian-Saudi partnership is temporary and has no prospects beyond cooperation in certain very narrow limits.

And I fully share the opinion of Mark N. Katz stating that the CSA "does not change its relations with third countries for the progress of bilateral relations"[20].

In relations with Saudi Arabia should be aware that this sort of "unsinkable aircraft carrier" of the United States in the middle East and ruling the house will never abandon this status

As questionable and put forward the thesis about a possible special partnership of CSA-RF in the sphere of export of energy resources, until the distribution of interests in this market. "Saudi Arabia remains a critical partner of the United States as a supplier of energy resources from the Middle East and the guarantor of the stability of these supplies. Russia has an opportunity to expand its influence on some European and Asian markets, but can never replace the middle East as the main supplier of oil for the whole world"[21].


So what understands Saudi Arabia under the joint coordination of foreign policy and what steps in this regard expects from Russia? Here is just a special no secrets, just look at the timeline of events in the Persian Gulf over the last two months.

Enter contingent CCG in Bahrain in fact means the transition of that country under external control of the KSA. Moreover, as rightly noted by researchers, "a direct interference in Bahrain means a strengthening of conservative elements in Saudi Arabia itself and the course of king Abdullah to act as Supreme arbiter on the Peninsula, using non-violent methods, what is called, "speaking authority"[22].

But, as it turned out, forces CCG is not enough to share peace on the Peninsula. On the verge of an explosion of Oman and Yemen, Qatar participates in operations against Libya. Saudi Arabia itself increasingly drawn into confrontation with Syria on the side of the opposition to Bashar al-Assad. Thus, the situation in the Kingdom and in the countries of the CCG, and even in the "pacification" Bahrain is far from idyllic and more resembles a powder keg.

In these conditions, principally now for the Saudis, who decided to consolidate their hegemony in the Gulf and deal with the hated Assad is "Iranian direction."

April 4 during an emergency meeting of the CCG, which was held in Riyadh, the participants condemned the actions of Tehran, which, in their opinion, "it intervenes in the internal Affairs of Gulf States".

In addition, according to the tradition, Iran was accused of conspiring to undermine national security in the Arab countries.

I'm not going to analyze now the validity of these accusations. This is a topic for another conversation. More importantly, Saudi Arabia now requires that Russia:

  1. revised its contracts for the delivery of weapons to Syria towards the termination of deliveries under existing contracts (here, by the way, the position of the KSA matches the requirements of Russia Israel);
  2. put pressure on Iran to restrict its possible activity in the Gulf. Or, at least, would support the possibility of toughening sanctions against Iran, which will be submitted to the UN under any "plausible" excuse, for example – the intransigence of Iran's national nuclear program (though a reason is always there. And if not there, it will be fabricated).

Such, in General terms, the KSA sees coordination of Russian-Saudi foreign policy efforts and "further improvement and development of relations".

That Saudi Arabia is ready to offer in return? Analysis of bilateral relations, especially economic and military-technical spheres leads to the conclusion that the Kingdom would offer Russia a one-time financial payment in the amount of from three to five billion dollars (however, if the sum will be slightly larger, it essentially does not change).

This payment may be issued in the form of investment or another in some way (possibly even granting Russia certain technologies or military equipment, to which the current leadership of Russia is understandable nourishes weakness). But this will be a one-time deal that will not impose on the KSA there are no political or economic obligations in the future.

Let me repeat: the Russian-Saudi partnership is temporary and has no prospects beyond cooperation in certain very narrow limits.

On this basis, before President Medvedev today the question is: either to maintain relationships with strategic partners in the region, which are Iran and Syria, either as a lump sum to receive monetary compensation for the loss of these relationships. In other words – to accept or not to accept the principle of "new-time old friend is better than two".

Experience in dealing with these dilemmas the President has. Suffice it to recall that Russia in 2009 was ready to break the contract with Iran to supply s-300 but wanted to get advanced Israeli UAV technology. However, in Jerusalem expressed concern that the latest technology in the field of unmanned aircraft "will quickly be in the hands of the Chinese." Later, in October 2010, the Israeli concern "TAAS Aviram" signed an agreement with the Russian partners of Oboronprom on the delivery of components for UAVs, and a month before President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree "On measures to implement UN security Council resolution number 1929 of 9 June 2010", in which, in particular, stipulated a ban on the transfer to Iran antiaircraft missile systems With-300[23].

What choice will be made this time? Usual for contemporary Russian foreign policy the desire to act based not so much on considerations of geopolitical realities, but in anticipation of the "moral approval of the West" assumes between "old friends" and "new money", and that they are all the same money.

[3] Press-service of the President of the Russian Federation, 25.03. 2011

[4] SPA, March 25, 2011 No. 0009

[5] "Saudi Arabia Turning Away from the West towards Russia-TV Report," Russian external TV service NTV Mir, 12 February 2007, op. CIT. according to BBC Monitoring.

[7] on 24 December 2009

[8] Russian Emirates, edition 2/13 2007,

[9] Saudi Arabia creates a scientific center for nuclear energy 19-04-2010,

[10] Saudi Arabia, Russia to sign nuclear pact

[11] In December 2009, the UAE signed with South Korea a contract worth $40 billion for the construction of 4 nuclear reactors. It is expected that the first nuclear reactor in the UAE would be launched into commercial operation in 2017.

[12] SAUDI ARABIA: THE STRATEGIC SHIFT TOWARDS RUSSIA? By Dr. Subhash Kapila SAAG Paper No. 2154 dated 28.02.2007 “Russia's President Putin's Second Strategic Foray in the Middle East (February 2007)

[13] "Russia will supply to Saudi Arabia weapons on tens of millions of dollars" Rossiyskaya Gazeta, 09.03.2011

[14] "Does Saudi Arabia Still Matter? Differing Perspectives on the Kingdom and Its Oil", Foreing Affairs, Dec. 2002

[15] November 24, 2008

[16] "Saudi "fount of knowledge" in Kazan is a event in the development of education", ISLAMNews, 04.04.2011

[17] the Portal of the government of the Republic of Tatarstan, 04.04.2011,

[18] أضعف الإيمان - إرهاب تمرد أم سياسي؟

[19] on 18 may 2010, the portal of the "United Russia"

[20] "The Emerging Saudi-Russian Partnership" by Mark N. Katz (Mideast Monitor, Jan.-March 2008, vol.3-1)

[21] "Does Saudi Arabia Still Matter? Differing Perspectives on the Kingdom and Its Oil", Foreing Affairs, Dec. 2002

[22] Saudi Arabia Strikes Back, Foreign Policy, March 29, 2011

[23] "Russia blackmailed Israel s-300 supplies to Iran", 29.11.2010

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