Saudi King heads to Russia to talk oil, Syria, Iran

by WorldTribune Staff, October 5, 2017

In the first ever visit to Moscow by a reigning Saudi monarch, King Salman is expected to prioritize oil cooperation but will also discuss differences with Russia over Syria and Iran.

The King, who arrives in Moscow on Oct. 5, will have several investment deals on his plate, including on a liquefied natural gas project and petrochemical plants, and could also sign plans for a $1-billion fund to invest in energy projects.

Saudi King Salman may seek assurances from Moscow that Iran will not have a permanent role in Syria. / AFP

The visit includes talks in the Kremlin with President Vladimir Putin.

While Saudi and Russia helped secure a deal between OPEC and other producers to cut output until the end of March 2018, they support competing sides in Syria’s civil war.

Riyadh’s support for rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad and Moscow’s backing of Assad leaves Russia aligned with Saudi’s arch-rival Iran, whose influence Riyadh fears is growing in the region.

King Salman may also seek assurances from Moscow that Iran will not have a permanent role in Syria.

“The Saudis want help on Iran, and Russia wants trade and investment,” said Mark N. Katz, a Russia-Middle East relations analyst at George Mason University. “In the Saudi mind, they’re definitely linked and the Russians are going to try to separate these.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow hoped the king’s trip would breathe life into a relationship with huge potential and was interested in maintaining dialogue with Riyadh “about the Middle East and Syria in particular.”

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said in an interview broadcast on Oct. 2 that the planned $1-billion fund to invest in energy projects was part of efforts to strengthen cooperation in oil, gas, electricity, renewable energy and other projects.

Russian firms are also discussing deals with Saudi Aramco, such as providing drilling services in Saudi Arabia, and Russian oil giant Rosneft’s interest in crude trading, Novak added.

Russian Economy Minister Maxim Oreshkin said on Oct. 3 investors were interested in a nuclear energy plant Saudi Arabia wants to build and Saudis would be offered investment opportunities including in shipping company Sovcomflot.

A Russian energy source said a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was expected to be signed between Novatek and Saudi Arabia on a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, known as Arctic LNG-2, that aims to start up in the 2020s, Reuters reported.

Saudi Aramco and Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) is expected to sign an MoU with Russia’s biggest petrochemical firm Sibur to examine opportunities for building petrochemical plants in the two countries.

King Salman’s son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, visited Russia in May just before his elevation to crown prince. In 2015 the countries’ sovereign wealth funds agreed to $10 billion in investments.

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