The waning U.S. supremacy and emerging multi-polar structure have imparted strategic and economic ripples in foreign policies of the different states. Multiple states of different regions started to redesign their priorities to place themselves appropriately in emerging power structure. As a result, the possibilities of multiple emerging poles have increased manifold. China’s rise, Russian resurgence, Indian growth and shifting of power epicenter from west to east have been bringing global politics in the new power structure, which can be more susceptible to conflicts.
The power accumulators are being contested for multiple ingredients of power; however, energy and defense have got more urgent attention and priorities. In the past, energy was the pivotal motive of U.S. broader engagement from the Middle East to Afghanistan, so presently is not different for China, Saudi Arabia, and Russia, where energy is acting as glue among them besides other converging interests.
In 21st century geopolitical arrangements, Russo-Saudi rapprochement is second Saudi strategic opening after Sino-Saudi relations. Earlier, King Abdullah opened Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) to China, and now King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has paid his first state-level visit to Russia, the first such visit of Saudi monarch to Moscow in last 100 years. The change is the outcome of changing power constellation that has been pushing KSA for diversifying its energy markets and sources for its defense procurements, on one hand, while enhancing its political and diplomatic clout, on the other. King Salman bin Abdulaziz’s month-long six-nation tour to Asia pacific’s was underscoring a great this new shift in Saudi foreign policy.
In contrast to China and US, since centuries, Russia has long-lived strategic interests in the Middle East. From Catherine the great, through Tsar Era and cold war era to modern geopolitics, Turkey and Syria have been strategically important for Russian foreign policymakers. In recent years, multiple factors are not only reinvigorated the centuries’ old Russian strategic interests but also cemented them. Firstly, in 2014, successful Crimean annexation became a stepping stone for greater Russia interests in the region, direct access to the Black Sea. Secondly, Russian strategic stand in the Syrian crisis and its successful onslaught upon ISIS have once again brought it at the center of global power politics.
Thirdly, Turkey’s failed coup attempt, 15 July 2015, and as consequence, its abrupt swing towards Russia paved avenues for Russian smooth passage through the Dardanelles and the Bosporus, the Turkish Straits, centuries before several wars were fought between Tsar and Ottoman for this channel. Fourthly, Saudi-Iran locked down in sectarian conflict and Russian weight behind Iran compelled Saudi to win over Russia in order to equalize the equation.
Currently, three global powers-US, China, and Russia- have been trying to reshape the geopolitical landscape of Middle East. Regional great power aspirants such as Iran and KSA are aligning themselves with global powers. Iran has friendly relations with two of them, China and Russia, signed a twenty-five-year strategic cooperation agreement and had negotiated a plan of $10bn arms purchase with them, respectively .while, its relations with Trump administration subjected to stress. For aspirant, KSA, many geopolitical changes and especially the recent two developments triggered deeper concerns in Riyadh.
Firstly, Russia’s successful intervention in Syrian crisis on Assad’s side, and secondly, President Barack Obama’s decision of limiting arms sell to KSA due to Yemen’s humanitarian crises in Saudi Arabia’s campaign against Yemen. The first event recognized Russian return while second conveyed that old allies no more much reliable. The worst part of the story for KSA was Iran’s diplomatic and hidden military victory against it in these two parts of the region. Later, the growing Iran influence has been dubbed KSA encirclement.
The two events pushed KSA away from America towards diversification of its relations. The Saudi-Russia rapprochement is partially the outcome of Saudi mistrust over the US concluded the nuclear deal and then Yemen episode. Russia can not only ensure Saudi’s strategic stakes in the Middle East but also can be a more reliable partner in the multi-polar world. At the time of this writing, during his first official state visit, Saudi King Salman inked an agreement for buying Russian S-400 air defense systems, Kornet anti-tank guided missile systems and multiple rocket launchers that will enhance Saudi’s military capabilities.
China, one of three great powers engaged in the Middle East, is the largest destination of Saudi’s oil and very carefully setting foot in Saudi-Iran equation in this region. It has adopted two prone strategies; one side of the coin has global dimension while other regional. Regionally, China keeps away herself being engaged not only in Saudi-Iran but also in the Israel-Arab equation. Although China is an attractive destination for Middle Eastern energy exports, its policy of regional- neutrality may do not make it as striking choice as Russia for regional power players. In global dimension, Sino-Russo coalition is a strategic compulsion of both in the region against their common adversary, US, but again China keeps its support only to the diplomatic domain. In Syria issue, China’s diplomatic presence complemented Russian designs and both have been able to keep America at bay in the Middle East.
The Russo-Saudi rapprochement will provide breathing space for Russian declined economy. Saudi Arabia can be a new reliable market for Russian high tech productions that observed sharp declined after western sanctions. In the energy sector, Saudi Arabia investment worth of $10 billion will also help get stand Russia energy sector. The new turn in Russo-Saudi relations will put Moscow in more bargaining position not only viz a viz west but also China. In 21st-century power transition, the incumbent leaders, Chinese president Xi Jinping, Russian president Vladimir Putin, Saudi monarch King Salman have been playing a vital role in steering their respective states amid turmoil anarchic structure. The diversification principle of many aspects of national power has got more ascendancy than anything else.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.