From Russia... with friendship!

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SYRIA, Yemen, Iraq, Kurdistan, Iran, Palestine, Daesh (the so-called IS), terrorism funding and other hot political matters were discussed during Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman’s visit to Moscow. There were economic issues, too, with oil market stability being on top of the list.

I was called to comment on TV programs, but there were so many points to be addressed in a brief period of time — not to mention the bilateral relationship that took 90 years to develop and is now attaining high maturity.

This is a story that won’t fit in a 10-minute TV commentary, but it is worth telling. Lets start from the very beginning, then. In 1926, our nation was just named the Kingdom of Hejaz and Sultanate of Najd. The Soviet Union, a newborn superpower, was the first to recognize the young Arabian Kingdom. In 1932, Foreign Minister Prince (King) Faisal visited Moscow, and showed much interests in the Soviet industrial revolution.

After World War II, the allies were divided into two camps: The “atheist” communist block under the Soviet wing and the US-led capitalist camp. Saudi Arabia, a founding member of Non-Allied Movement, was also the leader of the Muslim world. Such positioning took us closer to the Western block and our strongest allies, the United States and Britain.

The Soviet’s invasion of Afghanistan and its support for Marxist regimes and parties didn’t help. But then everything suddenly changed. In 1990, the Iron Curtain came down, the “evil” empire was dismembered and the Russian Federation was born on a different platform — Christian, democratic and capitalist. Saudi Arabia was among the first to recognize the new state and to establish a diplomatic relationship.

Since then, high-level visits followed. Moscow has welcomed Crown Prince (King) Abdullah (2003), Crown Prince Sultan (2007), as well as many visits by Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal, Secretary General of National Security Council, Bandr Bin Sultan, and Deputy Crown Prince (Crown Prince) Muhammad Bin Salman.

Unfortunately, politics usually lead the relationship train. The Russian destructive intervention in Syria brought that train to a virtual stop. Still, other positive stands did help. Moscow voted for the Security Council Resolution 2216, on Yemen, and has supported the legitimate Yemeni government. It took a positive stand on Qatar, telling its government to stop funding terrorism, supported the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and joined us on the fight against terrorism.

On the Syrian issue, we agreed on the declaration of Geneva Conference 1. The disagreement is mostly about the transition mechanism, the future of Bashar Assad, the Iranian and its militias’ role and the continuing bombardment of civilian areas.

With so many points of agreement, hopefully the rest can be resolved. It is in the best interest of Russia to keep Iran and its bogies away from an allied country in a dire need for peace, security and unity. Syria also needs a huge effort and fund for reconstruction (estimated at up to $350 billions). All the above cannot be achieved if Iranian destructive intervention continues.

Russia also needs to amend relations with the Arab and Muslim world with a billion and a half customers and huge resources and markets. With 14 percent of its population being Muslim, Russia could fit in easily in our world. In a time, when its economy is under Western siege, good economic relations with Arab and Muslim countries will certainly help. Saudi Arabia is the gateway not only to the Middle East, but also to the rest of the 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

On the bilateral front, the two countries have much to benefit from mutual trade and investment. They share a huge interest in the stability of the oil market to sustain their income. Renewable energy, including nuclear, is another shared interest. The agreements signed showed the wide and deep scope of interests. From agricultural investments to space exploration, and from petrochemical to defense manufacturing, the list of agreements covers almost every field, including tech transfer, education and training.

Most of that were expected, since preparation for the royal visit took years. Still, the S-400 missile defense deal was a pleasant surprise. Saudi Arabia has never bought military equipment from Russia, let lone localizing production.

The Pentagon showed some concern. I told my interviewers that there is nothing to be worried about. Ours is an independent country, with diversified relations and interests. We have bought great American military products, as well as, Canadian, British, European, South American, South African, Ukrainian and Chinese. Russian missile defense systems, especially the S-400 are famous for their great power, efficiency, and price. We can easily accommodate both the American THAAD and Russian S-400 systems in a country so vast, against enemies so aggressive.

Saudi-Russian relations are just warming up. More to expect, more to come. Good news is overdue. We deserve a break!

— Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi


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