King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz Image Credit: AP

Manama: King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz’s upcoming visit to Moscow, is the first time in Saudi Arabia’s history that a monarch visits Russia.

Last week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “Moscow attaches great importance to the King’s upcoming visit” set to take place on Thursday.

Business, investment and oil cooperation will figure high on the agenda between King Salman and Russian President Vladimir Putin where the men are expected to sign a string of cooperation agreements.

There is a great focus on enhancing the investment partnership between the two countries in light of the Saudi Vision 2030, which has succeeded in achieving multibillion dollar investment alliances and is taking Saudi Arabia beyond the stage of reliance on oil, the sources told Saudi daily Okaz.

Saudi Arabian Oil Co. (Aramco), the world’s biggest oil exporter, is in talks with Sibur Holding PJSC, Russia’s largest petrochemical producer, to form a joint venture to produce synthetic rubber in Saudi Arabia.

Bloomberg reported that the venture would be Aramco’s first project with a Russian company that did not involve energy exploration or production. It conforms with Aramco’s strategy of boosting investments in refining and petrochemicals to reduce its reliance on crude sales.

Saudi Aramco’s other local venture with a Russian partner, called Luksar, was owned equally by Aramco and Lukoil PJSC and focused on searching for, and developing, natural gas in the Saudi Rub Al Khali desert, known as the Empty Quarter, Bloomberg added.

The Aramco-Sibur venture would be the second rubber-producing venture by the Saudi company with a foreign firm. In 2015, Aramco announced acquiring a stake of 50 per cent in a joint venture to produce rubber with the Dutch company Lanxess.

According to Okaz editorial, the visit will lay the foundation for a strategic alliance with Russia which has “great potential and a promising market”.

“There are strategic geopolitical interests between Riyadh and Moscow. Russia needs a strong ally capable of confronting threats from Daesh and establishing security in the region,” it said.

“The consolidation of bilateral relations while separating them from the differences of views on the hot issues in the Middle East is the way to find solutions to the crises of the region because it ensures the effectiveness of channels of communication and dialogue between the two countries, especially as Saudi Arabia as a regional power can play an effective role in restoring security and stability in the region.”

Also on the agenda will be the Syria crisis, in which both countries have been actively invested in — although on opposing sides.

“Saudi Arabia, one of the Arab world leaders, plays an important role in the Arab affairs, and Russia seeks to maintain dialogue, including when discussing the situation in the Middle East region and in Syria, in particular,” Peskov adding that he hoped the visit would boost bilateral relations.

“At the same time, the Kremlin is considering Saudi Arabia as one of the major players in the Middle East and has realised the need to reach points of convergence on common issues, such as cooperation in the fight against terrorism, the establishment of a just peace in the region and the discussion of differences regarding some issues, such as the way to settle the Syrian crisis.”

Last month, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country was ready for cooperation with Saudi Arabia in the energy sphere in territories of both countries.

“King Salman expressed satisfaction with our cooperation in the energy,” the Russian minister was quoted as saying by TASS following talks with Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir.

“This is exactly the estimation of the Russian leaders of the cooperation in this sphere.

“Our economy operators are interested and ready for participation in joint projects with Riyadh in the energy, industry, agriculture and other promising sectors both in Russia and in Saudi Arabia,” Lavrov said.

History of relations

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Russia started in 1926, but they were severed from 1938 until 1990.

King Abdullah visited Russia in 2003, but as Crown Prince. However, the visit opened high-level contacts between the two countries.

President Putin on February 11, 2007 became the first Russian leader to visit Saudi Arabia where he met King Abdullah. The visit was an opportunity for Moscow to improve its relations with Riyadh regarding various areas, including regional security issues, energy, trade, transportation, scientific cooperation and exchanges.