Saudi King Seeks Oil-Pact Extension on ‘Epochal’ Russia Visit

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz is making an historic first visit to Russia by a monarch of the Gulf kingdom as he and President Vladimir Putin seek an understanding on whether to extend an agreement curbing oil supplies.

King Salman is due to meet with Putin on Thursday after he arrived for the four-day official visit late Wednesday. His journey to Moscow, ahead of planned talks with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington early next year, underscores a shift in strategic direction by Saudi Arabia as Russian influence in the Middle East expands following Putin’s military intervention in Syria.

King Salman bin Abdulaziz at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport, Oct. 4.

Photographer: Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images

“Is there really anything in the world that’s absolutely permanent?” Putin told an energy forum in Moscow on Wednesday, in response to a question about whether Saudi Arabia will always align with the U.S. in geopolitical issues. “It seems to me, on the contrary, that everything’s changing.”

The Saudi courtship of Russia reflects a convergence of interests between the world’s two largest oil exporters as the output pact between the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC producers has spurred a recovery in crude prices. It’s also a recognition by Riyadh of the changing political balance in the Middle East after Putin successfully countered indecisive U.S. efforts to topple Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

‘Transcends Energy’

“We are sure that this truly epochal event in our relations will bring our cooperation to a totally new level,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with Saudi-owned newspaper Sharq al-Awsat published on the Foreign Ministry’s website on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia will secure Russian backing to extend the oil pact “but the Kremlin will insist that the deal include some form of tapering,” Eurasia Group analysts including Ayham Kamel, Middle East and North Africa practice head, said in an emailed note. The visit “will lay the foundation for strategic cooperation that transcends energy issues, though the Saudis have no intention of abandoning their deep partnership with the U.S.”

Putin said Wednesday that Russia may agree to extend the oil-supply agreement with OPEC to the end of 2018, though he’ll wait to make a decision until nearer the expiry of the existing pact in March. The arrangement that took effect in January benefits oil consumers as well as producers because it guarantees a “stable market,” he said.

“This visit shows the level of trust that we’ve reached recently,” Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih told a Russia-Saudi investment forum in Moscow on Thursday. The oil-supply deal has achieved its goal by stabilizing the market, he said.