By Arab News
By Maria Dubovikova
King Salman arrived in Moscow on Wednesday for a historic and unprecedented state visit to Russia, the first by a Saudi monarch in almost a century of diplomatic ties.
The king was greeted at Vnukovo airport by senior Russian officials and a military brass band. He will have talks with the Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Friday.
The two countries will sign investment agreements worth more than $3 billion during the visit, the Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said. They include a $1.1 billion deal for the Russian petrochemical company Sibur to build a plant in Saudi Arabia, a $1 billion joint technology investment fund, another $1 billion joint fund to invest in energy projects, and Saudi investment in Russian toll roads, including a new one in Moscow.
King Salman and President Putin are also expected to discuss extending oil production cuts ahead of the OPEC meeting in November.
The king is leading a high-powered delegation of government and private-sector figures.
“The potential for economic cooperation between the countries is really unlimited,” Konstantin Dudarev, former Saudi general manager of the Russian oil and gas engineering construction company PJSC Stroytransgaz told Arab News.
“Their economies complement each other, and it is time to gain what was lost during the past years, and to take practical steps to overcome all obstacles to secure a breakthrough in trade and economic relations.”
Ilya Fabrichnikov, head of the foreign affairs group at the Russian Association of Public Relations, said the visit marked a shift in regional and global affairs. “We are witnessing a move from a unipolar world to a more regionalized state of affairs,” he told Arab News.
Anton Mardasov of the Russian International Affairs Council said the two countries were moving to end their “stereotyped perceptions of each other. Taking into account the nature of the Russian economy and the country’s geopolitical position, it is important for Moscow to attract foreign investment and ameliorate the investment climate.
“In this regard, Saudi-Russian business and investment cooperation serves Russian national interests. There are a large number of Muslims in Russia who can benefit from Islamic banking, which is an area of investment for Russia and Saudi Arabia.”
Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, said the two countries would seek areas of synergy and aim to exploit their “unique technologies,” for example in desalination and energy efficiency for air conditioning.
He also highlighted Russia’s largest tech company, Yandex, which specializes in Internet-related services and products. “Yandex is an interesting company for us because it is already present in the Middle East and Turkey, and it has a search engine that beats Google in the Russian market by a large margin,” he said.
Dmitriev’s fund will also look at relevant investments outside Russia and Saudi Arabia, he said.
The Council of Saudi Chambers organized a networking meeting in Moscow on Wednesday for more than 100 Saudi and Russian business leader and chief executives, to coincide with King Salman’s visit.
Council Chairman Ahmed Al-Rajhi said he hoped the meeting would boost commercial cooperation and investment between the two countries.
An increase in meetings between Russia and Saudi Arabia “has become a pressing necessity to activate commercial and investment relations,” he said.
King Salman’s visit will conclude on Saturday.