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US cooling could help Russia boost ties with Saudi Arabia

While Moscow realizes that it cannot replace the US role in the region, it’s hoping a cooling of ties between Washington and Riyadh will help bolster its own influence.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and his Saudi counterpart Faisal Bin Farhan chat ahead of a joint press conference following their meeting in the capital Riyadh, on March 10, 2021.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov paid a visit to Saudi Arabia earlier this month as part of his tour of the Gulf countries. Lavrov was received by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on March 10 and met with his Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. Unlike the top Russian diplomat’s meetings in Abu Dhabi and Doha, no major statements came out of his stop in Riyadh, nor were any important initiatives adopted. Yet the importance of this trip should not be underestimated.

Russia is probing sentiments in Saudi Arabia to help Moscow draw conclusions about steps toward rapprochement with the kingdom against the backdrop of a possible cooling in US-Saudi relations. Speculation has grown about a potential weakening of ties between Riyadh and Washington after US intelligence declassified a report Feb. 25 assessing that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Earlier in February, the White House had said President Joe Biden would conduct diplomacy through Saudi King Salman bin Abdulazizi rather than the crown prince, in contrast to former President Donald Trump. “We’ve made clear from the beginning that we are going to recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters.

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