CAIRO - Russian President Vladimir Putin received a cordial welcome Monday in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, where his limousine was escorted from the airport to the royal palace by a royal horse guard. Both Putin and Saudi King Salman spoke of improving trade ties, and emphasized that their relationship would not be at the expense of their allies and partners.
A Saudi military band played the Russian national anthem Monday, as President Vladimir Putin stood alongside Saudi King Salman, amid a cordial welcome for the Russian head of state who last visited Riyadh in 2007.
The Saudi welcome of Putin was not quite as elaborate as that given to U.S. President Donald Trump when he visited the kingdom in June of 2017 and was treated to an impressive display of Saudi folklore, including a sword dance.
During a joint meeting of delegations, Salman told Putin that Riyadh and Moscow are improving their trade relations, as per agreements made during the king's visit to Russia in 2017.
He says that more than 30 separate joint economic projects are underway, and that the kingdom welcomes further Russian participation in the kingdom's economic development within the scope of the "Vision 2030" project.
Saudi commentators pointed out that the former Soviet Union was the first country to recognize the nascent Saudi kingdom in 1926. Putin noted that Russian-Saudi relations have improved considerably since a link between the two countries was restored in 1990 and even more so during the past several years.
He says that there has been much progress in economic cooperation since Salman's visit to Moscow in 2017 and that a number of trade agreements have been implemented, increasing bilateral trade, considerably.
Saudi commentator Dr. Ali al-Anazy told Al Arabiya TV that trade between the two countries increased to around $29 billion last year. He stressed that both sides are determined "not to let their joint relations interfere with those of other allies or partners." Riyadh is a key Middle Eastern ally of the U.S., and Tehran is a key ally of Russia's.
Iran and Saudi Arabia have had increasingly thorny relations in recent years, finding themselves on opposing sides in conflicts in Syria and Yemen. Russian media hinted at Putin's good relations with Tehran and the possibility of his 'delivering a message to Tehran' from Riyadh, if the occasion arose.
Putin joked that he was ready to sell Russian air defense systems to Riyadh during a summit earlier this month with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the Turkish capital, Ankara. Russian media insisted at the time that the offer was made in jest. It followed the attack on Saudi oil installations in its Eastern Province. Yemen's Houthis claimed responsibility for the drone and missile attacks. Riyadh, however, blamed Iran.
Washington-based Gulf analyst Theodore Karasik told VOA that Putin's visit to Riyadh signals that Moscow is "seeking to act as a mediator between Riyadh and Tehran." He adds that it is also "meant as a hint to others about Russia's intent," in terms of possible arms sales and Russian offerings of "advanced technology to counter drones and other threats" at next month's Dubai airshow.
Dr. Paul Sullivan, a professor at the U.S. National Defense University, told VOA that "Putin and Russia are moving fast to gather power and leverage in the area." He argues that Putin is becoming 'the Teflon boss in the region," following a strategy which includes "[building] nuclear plants in Egypt, military actions in Syria and deal-making in Saudi Arabia and the UAE."
Putin, he argues, "is clearly taking advantage of what he calls the relative unfocused, chaotic and counter-strategic actions of Washington in the region."
The Jerusalem Post tweeted Monday that Russia was offering to cooperate with the U.S. in building a nuclear power plant in Saudi Arabia. VOA could not independently confirm the report, however.