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Mutual attraction of Russia, Saudi Arabia obvious, but contradictions remain

August 12, 2015, 15:05 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara
Adel al-Jubeir and Sergey Lavrov

Adel al-Jubeir and Sergey Lavrov

© Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS

MOSCOW, August 12. /TASS/. Frequent contacts between senior Russian and Saudi Arabian officials are a sure sign Moscow and Riyadh wish to present a common front against terrorism and to advance economic cooperation, the president of the Religion and Politics Institute, member of the presidential council for interaction with religious organizations, Alexander Ignatenko, told TASS.

On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir met in Moscow to confirm that King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, of Saudi Arabia, may pay a visit to Moscow this year.

A week earlier the Russian and Saudi foreign ministers and US Secretary of State John Kerry held talks in Qatar’s capital Doha. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman paid a visit to St. Petersburg last June and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It was one of the greatest sensations at the 2015 St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

"Since the moment the agreement over Iran’s nuclear program was achieved the United States has been not just mending relations with Teheran, but making Iran its partner in the Persian Gulf, at the same time turning away from its old-time ally Saudi Arabia, which is at odds with Iran," Ignatenko said. "In a situation like this Riyadh has been looking for new partners. If it all works, Moscow may prove Riyadh's sole partner in the region instead of the United States. Since the Soviet era Russia has been a country that has invariably maintained constructive relations with Arab states, including Saudi Arabia. Adel al-Jubeir recalled that with particular gratitude. Objectively, the situation in the Middle East as it is, Russia has been conducting a policy that runs counter to that of the United States, and the Saudi leadership does make allowances for that circumstance."

Ignatenko believes that mutual attraction between Russia and Saudi Arabia is obvious.

"But there remain certain rifts that have been insoluble so far. They are fundamental. One is Moscow and Riyadh have different attitudes to Syria’s President Bashar Assad," Ignatenko believes.

"Russia’s leadership is certain that Assad’s removal from the Syrian political system would have the same effects as the liquidation of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muamar Gaddafi in Libya. In the end, Iraq and Libya ceased to exist as sovereign states to have been turned into sources of extremism and the citadel of the terrorist Islamic State," Ignatenko said.

"The initiative that President Vladimir Putin has just come up with envisages solution of the Syrian crisis and concerted struggle with the Islamic State by a group of states, such as the US-led international led coalition, as well as Saudi Arabia, Russia and Damascus. Erroneously, Riyadh regards Assad as the root cause of all evil. This confrontation is not political but existential, and it has failed to be settled to this day," he remarked.

"But Assad should not be the exclusive centre of attention, of course. It makes no sense discussing him alone. A wide international coalition is to be formed and the Syrian crisis settled by peaceful means. In Doha and in Moscow the foreign ministers of Russia and Saudi Arabia continued attempts to narrow differences. When the global problem of terrorist escalation in the Middle East has been banished and the Syrian crisis settled, the future of Assad will be settled all by itself," Ignatenko believes.

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