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Oil deal rekindles Russian-Saudi relations

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By Sonny Atumah

Speaking at Symphony Hall, Boston, in support of Russia following the 1917 Revolution, Isadora Duncan (1877-1927), a U.S.dancer had this quote: America has all that Russia has not. Russia has things America has not. Why will America not reach out a hand to Russia, as I have given my hand? Duncan probably was right as cooperation needed between the two powers did not really happen as the Cold War set them further apart after the World War II. Divinely the United States and Russia have managed to patch up for global peace and security even after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The Iron Curtain existed from the end of World War II until the fall of Eastern European Communist governments between 1989 and 1991.

The two countries have been able to manipulate leadership of states and regions and oftentimes cause internecine rivalries and proxy war theatres for oil. Akin to rat race, the struggle for energy dominance has engendered paternalistic relationships by spooking weaker nations to trade on their energy resources. The uneven global distribution and non-renewable nature of oil and gas have made the commodity scarce and of strategic importance. Emerging economies are abandoning Cold War geopolitical rivalry for alliances and strategic economic cooperation in energy. And so, interests change with change in circumstances.

Countries with natural resources have been courted not just for economic gains but also for diplomatic relations. Oil has become a critical energy source for economic modernization and so an important foreign policy tool to court geopolitical and strategic alliances. Experts believe that energy realignments are emerging with the triumvirate of the United States, Russia and China aggressively canvassing and crisscrossing geopolitical regions to win diplomatic souls of nations with beliefs that energy alliances are stronger than most human marriages. But divorce and remarriages are allowed in these alliances.

The exhaustive nature of oil has contributed to its volatility with the largest oil consumers exerting political and military influences in oil rich tension regions like the Middle East.  America and China share common interests in the Middle East. The Chinese however, use diplomatic maneuvering and with Russia’s limited oil presence as the counterbalancing force to the US activities in the Middle East. Russia’s economy largely depends on oil for its foreign trade revenues. With low prices it has been volatility. Russia though not an OPEC member needed oil prices to rise to rescue its ailing economy.

The oil production freeze agreement and extension between OPEC and non OPEC led by Russia has become the foundation for a relationship that may reduce the already waning American influence in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has been an unpretentious ally of the United States. It is on record that the first country to establish full diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Hejaz and Nejd (the name of the Saudi state until 1932) was the Soviet Union in 1926. Saudi Arabia closed their legation in Moscow in 1938. Relations were especially strained from 1979, during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, with Saudi Arabia in close cooperation with the United States supporting the Afghan jihadists. Diplomatic relations reestablished after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the Russian Federation.

Would America have driven Russia and Saudi Arabia together with a surge in production last recorded in 1970? Russia and Saudi Arabia are referred to as the petroleum superpowers and account for about a quarter of the world’s crude oil production. Some experts believe that America as a net importer of oil would have different interests when it finally becomes a net exporter of oil. The United States is still producing over 10 million barrels a day more than Saudi Arabia that is in the output cut deal. The United States is still reliant on about eight million barrels a day of imports and relies on Saudi Arabia for a quantity. Some experts believe that America as a net importer of oil would have different interest when it finally becomes a net exporter of oil. Could this be the reason of Saudis disappointment when the Trump administration failed to give the Saudis support in its dispute with Qatar last year?

Experts say Russia may have plotted a Big Brother role in the Middle East. Russia has developed relationships with many groups in the Middle East and becoming the only one that can exert that influence to all including Israel, Iran, Syria and even Hamas and Hezbollah. The United States, on the other hand, is at odds with Syria and has a frosty relation with Iran. On October 5 2017, the Saudi Arabian monarch King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud made a historic visit to the Grand Kremlin Palaceon in Moscow. It was a land mark event in diplomatic circles as it was the first of any Saudi ruler to visit Russia. At the end of the summit, King Salman and Vladimir Putin entered into pacts on energy, trade, and defense, and agreed to several billion dollars worth of joint investment. There were reports that Saudi Arabia agreed to purchase Russia’s S-400 air defense system, making it the second American ally after Turkey to do so.


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