RIYADH,(AP) – In the first trip to Saudi Arabia by a Russian leader, President Vladimir Putin and his Saudi counterparts are expected to discuss economic and military cooperation and the conflicts that continue to trouble region.
Saudi officials said the trip could be a big boost for relations with Russia.
“The visit is a turning point because we will see lots of development in cooperation politically, economically and militarily,” said a Saudi official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he could not discuss the visit on the record.
Putin is expected to meet with King Abdullah, Crown Prince Sultan and Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal on Sunday, according to Saudi media. On Monday, he is expected to visit a photo gallery at the National Museum.
The Iraq war, the Arab-Israeli conflict, simmering tensions in Lebanon and Iran’s nuclear program are expected to top Putin’s talks with his Saudi hosts.
His visit comes a day after the Russian leader lashed out at one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest allies — the United States — telling a conference of the world’s top security officials in Germany that Washington’s increased use of military force was creating a new arms race, with smaller nations turning toward developing nuclear weapons.
Russia has stepped up its military and trade ties with other countries in the Middle East, delivering weapons systems to Syria and Iran, among others. It is hoping to win a Saudi order for tanks on this trip.
Russian presidential aide Sergei Prikhodko also said the two leaders would discuss military and technology cooperation, along with economic ties, though no agreements on the military front were expected to be signed, according to the Russian news agency ITAR-Tass.
Saudi Arabia and Moscow had full diplomatic relations until 1938, when dictator Josef Stalin closed his embassy in Saudi Arabia to save money. Several attempts to re-establish ties during the 1980s faltered over what Saudi Arabia called the Soviet Union’s “belligerent attitude” toward its Muslim population, notably in Chechnya. Muslims make up about 20 million of Russia’s 145 million population.
In September 1990, the Soviet Union and the kingdom restored diplomatic relations at the height of tensions in the Gulf resulting from Iraq’s August 1990 invasion and occupation of Kuwait. A U.S.-led coalition evicted the Iraqi army, ending a seven-month occupation.
In September 2003, Abdullah, then crown prince, went to Moscow, becoming the most senior Saudi official to visit Russia since then-Prince Faisal, who later became king, visited in 1932.
During Abdullah’s trip, Russian and Saudi energy ministers signed an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the oil and gas industry. The agreement also envisaged joint ventures in oil and gas exploration and scientific research. Russia is the world’s second-largest oil exporter behind Saudi Arabia.
Putin will also make his first trips to Qatar and Jordan.