March 30, 2023

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'Bromance' between Putin and MBS

‘Bromance’ between Putin and MBS

Mohammed bin Salman and Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in November 2018.Image by Kevin Lamarck/Reuters

Both have invaded neighboring countries (Ukraine and Yemen), eliminated political opponents, and openly turned their backs on the West. The rapprochement between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) is increasing day by day. Last week, in a new step in their developing diplomatic alliance, they signed their signatures within the consultative body OPEC. Under the global reduction in oil production 44 to 42 million barrels per day.

This is a turning point on the world stage: whereas, since World War II, the Saudis have engaged in constant conflict with the United States, those self-certifications are now off the table. US President Joe Biden, who visited the kingdom last summer, tried to get first Crown Prince and now Prime Minister Bin Salman to lower rising prices at the pump and increase oil production. It has become a vain hope.

Oil and Human Rights

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, definitions of bin Salman’s diplomatic ‘bromance’ with Putin began to emerge. Saudi Arabia refused to condemn the invasion — by comparison, its annexation of Crimea in 2014 was condemned — and bin Salman ignored Biden’s call for oil prices to rise during the same period. Instead, MPS invited Putin. Even as the West announced sanctions, he quietly pumped 600 million euros into three Russian energy companies and doubled Russian oil imports.

Even more significant was the role his government played in last month’s prisoner swap. It is about ten international prisoners of war imprisoned by the Russians after fighting on the Ukrainian side. They were part of a larger exchange of approximately three hundred people (55 Russians vs. 215 Ukrainians).

Saudi diplomats reportedly helped with the negotiations, arranging a flight to take the ten to the kingdom before flying home. ‘A gift to MPS from Putin,’ says a British diplomat Guardian. Putin wanted it to look like Saudi diplomacy had done this.

Joe Biden and Mohammed bin Salman in July this year.  Statue Bandar Aljalout / AP

Joe Biden and Mohammed bin Salman in July this year.Statue Bandar Aljalout / AP

Bin Salman is pleased that, unlike Biden, Putin did not address human rights during bilateral talks or the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. During his election campaign, Biden promised to make Saudi Arabia a ‘pariah’. That murder is Arabia. Their meeting in Jeddah this summer took place in an icy atmosphere.

Smart game

Between Moscow and Riyadh, old disputes are being massaged. Earlier this year, within the UN Security Council, Russia backed an arms embargo against the Houthis in Yemen, which has been at war with Saudi Arabia since 2015. Moscow had previously opposed such a ban. There is no question of completely displacing Russia over the US as a smart game where Bin Salman decides on a case-by-case basis whether to do business with the US, Russia or China.

From the Saudi point of view, the Americans are applying a double standard: Russian aggression has led to a brutal response, while it does not apply to missile attacks on Saudi targets by the Houthis. They feel like a partner left out in the cold. This sentiment dates back to the era of President Obama, for whom a diplomatic deal with Iran — Saudi’s arch-enemy in the region — was a priority. Coincidentally, the same Iranians have come to Russia’s aid with drones, which the Saudis follow closely.

Earlier this year, the influential Saudi writer Mohammed Al-Yahya wrote an op-ed The Jerusalem Post, in which he questioned why the Gulf countries should help the US in Europe. The same Americans know that Riyadh is about to renew the hated Iran deal. Al-Yahya said China’s foreign policy is at least “simple and straightforward”: we sell you weapons in exchange for your oil. In short, a transactional relationship as Putin would have it.

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