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3 months ago

Putin to talk oil with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a ceremony to receive diplomatic credentials from newly appointed foreign ambassadors at the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Russia, December 4, 2023. Sputnik/Pavel Bednyakov/Pool via REUTERS/File photo
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a ceremony to receive diplomatic credentials from newly appointed foreign ambassadors at the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Russia, December 4, 2023. Sputnik/Pavel Bednyakov/Pool via REUTERS/File photo

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Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a rare trip abroad to discuss oil production, OPEC+ and the wars in the Gaza Strip and Ukraine.

Putin's meeting with the prince, known as MbS, comes after oil prices fell despite a pledge by OPEC+, which groups the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies led by Russia, to further cut output.

Putin is due to hold talks with President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, and then to travel to Saudi Arabia for his first face-to-face meeting with MbS since October 2019.

The Kremlin said they would discuss energy cooperation, including as part of OPEC+, whose members pump more than 40 per cent of the world's oil.

"Close Russian-Saudi coordination in this format is a reliable guarantee of maintaining a stable and predictable situation in the global oil market," the Kremlin said.

The Kremlin's chief's last visit to the region was in July 2022, when he met Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran.

It was not immediately clear what Putin, who has rarely left Russia since the start of the Ukraine war, intends to discuss with the crown prince of the world's largest oil exporter, just days after disagreements delayed a key OPEC+ meeting.

They will also discuss the war between Israel and Hamas militants, the situation in Syria and Yemen, and broader issues like ensuring stability in the Gulf, the Kremlin said. A Kremlin aide said Ukraine would also be discussed.

Putin will host Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Moscow on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

CLOSE TIES

Putin and MbS, who together control one-fifth of the oil pumped each day, have long enjoyed close relations, though both have at times been ostracised by the West.

At a G20 summit in 2018, just two month after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate, Putin and MbS high-fived and shook hands with smiles.

MbS, 38, has sought to reassert Saudi Arabia as a regional power with less deference to the United States, which supplies Riyadh most of its weapons and which is the world's top producer of oil.

Putin, who sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022, says Russia is engaged in an existential battle with the West - and has courted allies across the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia amid Western attempts to isolate Moscow.

Both MbS and Putin, 71, want - and need - high prices for oil - the lifeblood of their economies. The question for both, is how much of the burden each should take on to keep prices aloft - and how to verify the burden.

OPEC+ last month delayed its meeting by several days due to disagreements over production levels by some members. Saudi's energy minister said OPEC+ also wanted more assurances from Moscow it would do good on its pledge to reduce fuel exports.

Relations between Saudi and Russia in OPEC+ have at times been uneasy and a deal on cuts almost broke down in March 2020, when the markets were already shaken by the onset of the COVID pandemic.

But the two nations managed to patch up their relations within weeks and OPEC+ agreed to record cuts of almost 10 per cent of global oil demand, to prop up the oil markets.

MIDDLE EAST WAR

Since war broke out between Israel and Hamas on Oct. 7, Putin has cast the conflict as a failure of US policy in the Middle East and has fostered ties with Arab allies and Iran, as well as with Hamas.

When Russia intervened in the Syrian Civil War in 2015, it helped tip the balance in Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's favour, ensuring the Syrian leader's survival despite Western demands that he be toppled.

"The Kremlin seeks to build its line of behaviour taking into account the opinions of the main regional players - Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran, who are not just observers, but also, in a sense, participants in the situation," Andrey Kortunov of the Russian International Affairs Council think tank told the Vedomosti newspaper.

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