On August 24, 2021, Russia and Saudi Arabia signed a military cooperation agreement at an arms expo in the outskirts of Moscow.
In a tweet posted on August 24, Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman announced that he signed the agreement with Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin “aimed at developing joint military cooperation between the two countries.”
Furthermore, had a meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu during the arms expo International Military-Technical Forum Army-2021. The deputy defense minister revealed that the meeting looked at ways to “strengthen military and defense cooperation between our two countries.”
No more specific details were discussed about the nature of the military agreement between Saudi Arabia and Russia. For some perspective, Saudi Arabia is the world’s leading weapons importer while Russia is the second largest arms exporter following the US.
For years, the US has been the leading weapons supplier to Saudi Arabia. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported that Saudi Arabia was the main recipient of American arm sales from 2016 to 2020, which comprises 24% of American arm sales.
“We aim for a progressive development of cooperation in military and military-technical fields on the entire spectrum of issues that pose mutual interest,” Shoigu declared during the meeting with Salman.
Shoigu pointed out that Russia possesses many new weapons systems that have “proven themselves well in Syria.” Russia’s military has intervened in the Syrian Civil War to prop up President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
The Saudis are calculating that future American administrations may not be so friendly to them, so they’ll have to put feelers out for different partners who help them with their defense needs. As the US becomes more energy independent thanks to its budding fracking sector, it will no longer treat Saudi Arabia with as much reverence. Just look at the Jamal Khashoggi affair, where the US ended up sanctioning various individuals in the Saudi government for their role in allegedly murdering the Saudi journalist.
The fact is that with an ascendant Russia in the Eurasian space Saudi Arabia will have to work constructively with it. On previous occasions, relations between Saudi Arabia and Russia were rather fraught, with numerous Salafist patrons from the Gulf Arab state funding Chechen insurgencies throughout the 90s. This perhaps explains Russia’s recently warm relations with Iran, a move that acts as a balance against Sunni states.
However, the geopolitical landscape is changing and previous relations which may have been strained will have to be mended. Russia and Saudi Arabia’s new defense agreement is just another sign that the Eurasian will be at the epicenter of geopolitical activity in the 21st century.