Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia's King Salman
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia's King Salman attend a meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, October 14, 2019. Image Credit: REUTERS

Dubai: Following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s state visits to Saudi Arabia and the UAE earlier in the week, bilateral relations between Russia and the two countries and Gulf states in general have taken a new turn. It will surely result in positive outcomes in the economic and strategic relationships.

It goes without saying there are unlimited prospects for Russia and the Gulf to develop cooperation across sectors, considering the enormous potential and capabilities on both sides. In recent years, Gulf-Russia relations have witnessed extensive cooperation in the fields of energy, trade, defence and aerospace. And yet, other vital areas such as banking, investments, financial services, agriculture and transportation can still do with additional support.

Further potential

Trade between Saudi Arabia and Russia have doubled five-and-a-half times in the last 10 years, especially after the Saudi King and the Crown Prince’s visits to Russia in the past two years. The volumes have jumped 72 per cent to $505 million (Dh1.8 billion) in the first quarter and should reach $2 billion dollars for the full year. Meanwhile, Russia’s trade with the UAE gained 36 per cent to $3.4 billion last year. But amid these positives, inherent capabilities should allow these to grow by leaps — this is what one can expect post the Putin visit. This comes despite the fact that Russia is not yet among top-ranking trade partners for the Gulf states.

Red-carpet treatment

Certainly, advancing economic and strategic relations require efforts on both sides. To that end, Gulf countries have taken measures, including providing facilities to Russian business and tourist visits besides incentives in financial services.

This helped the Russian National Wealth Fund open its first overseas branch in Saudi Arabia, in itself a remarkable development. In addition, Saudi-Russian coordination as part of Opec+ is a cornerstone in the stability oil prices are having and in safeguarding the interest of producing countries.

There is no doubt strategic partnerships in addition to business deals signed with Saudi Arabia and the UAE during Putin’s visit would offer Russian banking and financial institutions more openings. These will most likely increase the volume of trade through implementing joint projects. GCC countries would also offer other facilities to increase imports of Russian agricultural products, particularly wheat and grain. These currently remain at modest levels, although Russia is one of the world’s largest wheat exporters.

Russia must do its bit

Additionally, Russia could ease restrictions on the movement of Gulf businessmen and citizens, who continue to be put through demanding requirements, including the need for an invitation from Russia as a condition for obtaining a visit visa. This is indeed a complex measure that was put in place during the Soviet era.

While the Gulf’s citizens can obtain different types of visas for up to 10 years from the US and UK, they can only get a one-year one to Russia. This is an obstacle to easy travel, and will hinder the implementation of investment projects as well as tourism prospects.

The Russian President’s visits is thus expected to remove some of the obstacles that hampered relations in the past and raise it levels enjoyed with China, India, the US and Western Europe. Russia is economically, culturally and scientifically rich and the GCC countries have ambitious development programmes.

This means both sides have the capabilities, including wealth, to take bilateral relations to new heights. This will go a long way in supporting stability and security in the Arabian Gulf.