Russia, Saudi Arabia seal key oil deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia's King Salman discussed military cooperation and tensions with Iran

Photo: SPA Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shaking hands with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a key deal Monday with Saudi Arabia during a key visit for an OPEC+ grouping aimed at stabilising global oil prices and seeking to calm regional tensions with Iran. Putin's visit was the first one to the kingdom in over a decade and followed attacks on Saudi oil installations that Saudi Arabia and the United States have blamed on Iran, an ally of Moscow.

The meeting however signified strengthening relations between the two countries. Following talks between Putin and Saudi King Salman, the two countries signed some 20 agreements and contracts worth billions of dollars on aerospace, culture, health, advanced technology and agriculture. Key among the deals was the agreement to bolster cooperation among the so-called OPEC+ countries - the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries plus 10 non-members of the cartel.

Moscow is not a member of OPEC, but it has worked closely with the group to limit supply and push up prices after a 2014 slump that wreaked havoc on the economies of Russia and cartel heavyweight Saudi Arabia.

Monday's deal seeks to "reinforce cooperation ... and strengthen oil market stability", Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said at the signing ceremony.

The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said the two leaders also discussed developments in Syria, where Turkey recently launched a cross-border offensive, and the ongoing civil war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been fighting Houthi rebels since 2015. In that regard Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov told reporters that Putin and Saudi officials also discussed "military and technical cooperation". 

In October 2017, Russia and Saudi Arabia had already signed once a memorandum of understanding paving the way for Riyadh's purchase of Moscow's powerful S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems. The sale never materialised, however, as Saudi Arabia eventually opted to purchase a US system.

Still, on Monday, Putin said "Russia attaches particular importance to the development of friendly, and mutually beneficial ties with Saudi Arabia".

"We look forward to working with Your Excellency on everything that will bring security, stability and peace, confront extremism and terrorism and promote economic growth," he was told by King Salman.

Moscow and Riyadh, a traditional US ally, have made a striking rapprochement in recent years, marked in particular by King Salman's first visit to Russia in October 2017. A year later, when Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman was under fire over the assassination of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, Putin went out of his way to shake his hand at a G20 summit, to much comment.

In an interview with Arabic-language television channels ahead of his visit, Putin once again praised his good relations with the Saudi royals.

"We will absolutely work with Saudi Arabia and our other partners and friends in the Arab world... to reduce to zero any attempt to destabilise the oil market," he said.

After Saudi Arabia, Putin will now travel to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday to meet the powerful crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.

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