President Vladimir Putin and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, 2018. Source.
A fair bit of commentary in Okaz on the Kingdom diversifying its relationships by strengthening ties to Russia – to be updated as more comes in.
Update [10/17/2019]: Key Themes of Commentary:
The Kingdom pursues a flexible foreign policy that balances old relationships with new, pragmatic engagements – explicitly mentioning the U.S. relationship
A natural alignment of Kingdom and Russia due to similar economic profiles, interest in stable global energy markets
Russia according the Kingdom due deference as a key force for stability in the region
Russia and the Kingdom as more “naturally” aligned on questions of Western human rights organizations, counter-terrorism, prioritization of “stability”
This on the occasion of Pres. Vladimir Putin’s visit to KSA and the UAE.
This strengthened, mutual cooperation in many areas reflects the Kingdom’s efforts to diversify its investments and balancing out its interests. It is true that the Russian partner has not yet reached the level of a strategic ally to the Kingdom. Yet it is eligible for this if the relationship continues in positive cooperation and with an understanding on important issues in the region – this does not contradict the traditional historical alliances of the Kingdom… Hamood Abu Talib, Okaz, 10.14.2019
The agreement between Saudi Arabia and Russia, together with China, is required in the next stage. Reaching it will certainly help to find solutions to the accumulated problems of our regional environment. This partnership will work to build an economy based on mutual benefit and not on the fabrication of crises and the militarization of the economy. Saudi foreign policy is pragmatic, relying on the “realist school,” and its priorities are not constrained by alliances or partnerships. Badr bin Saud, Okaz, 10.14.2019
There is more that brings Riyadh and Moscow together than divides them. This includes oil and gas production, their strategic position on terrorism, opposition to the bullying of Western “human rights” institutions, and a clear understanding of the danger of Iran and Turkey. Muhammad Sa‘id, Okaz, 10.14.2019
Updated to include the following mentions of relations [10/16/2019]
From Faisal Abbas, Arab News:
Riyadh and Moscow may have different points of view on how some of these regional problems may be resolved, but there is no question that talking about these differences, and working closely to find mutually acceptable solutions, is a far better strategy than not doing so. Stronger cooperation between the two oil-producing countries will also stabilize energy markets, which is crucial not just for Saudis and Russians, but for the whole world. Arab News, 10.15.2019
Hamood Abo Taleb , on Saudi Arabia pursuing partnerships beyond the United States:
The reality is that the Kingdom, according to the rules of its new foreign policy, is looking for its interests according to accurate and carefully calculated political and economic calculations and balances. In Russia, Saudi Arabia has found an attractive party with which to establish a partnership for objective and important reasons… The political relationship with any party, even if it is an old alliance, does not mean a Catholic marriage that prevents the establishment of other relations… Okaz, 10.16.2019
And from Al-Riyadh‘s editorial page:
[President Putin’s remarks] confirm the centrality of the role of the Kingdom, which is growing day by day. This is especially true in light of the confused conditions witnessed by the Iranian regime to impose hegemony and instability, as well as Turkey’s current attacks on Syria. This reinforces the role of the Kingdom as a key player in ensuring the stability of the region. Al-Riyadh, 10.17.2019
And from columnist Abdullah bin Bakhit
In the disputed issues, the Kingdom understands the Russian position on Syria and Russia understands the Saudi position on the Syrian matter. This understanding ensures that the disagreement is not allowed to get worse. Al-Riyadh, 10.17.2019
Plus a call-and-response article from the ever-interesting Abdel Rahman al-Rashed for Aawsat:
President Putin has shown mastery in dealing with crises linked to the region. This was clear in his vision of the relationship with Saudi Arabia, which was considered the closest US ally among Arab countries. Of course, it still has a strong relationship with Washington, but no longer an exclusive one. When Putin chose Riyadh to open the first Russian investment fund office in the world, he was sending the message that the Saudi capital was more than a one-stop-shop. Aawsat, 10.15.2019
Al-Arabiya also hosted President Putin for his first-ever interview on the network:
Question: Is it possible to count on Russia being a mediator between Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf countries? Vladimir Putin: The role of mediator is not a rewarding one. I believe that our partners in Iran and Saudi Arabia do not need any mediation.Since we maintain very friendly relations with all the countries in the region, including Iran and the Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, we could certainly help relay some messages between the parties, so they could hear each other’s position. But since I personally know the leaders of these countries, I am perfectly sure that they have no need for any advice or mediation. What you can do is maintain a friendly conversation with them and present some ideas from a friend’s perspective. I am convinced that as highly intelligent people they listen and analyse everything they hear. From this point of view, yes, we could play a positive role in the process, to some extent. Full transcript of interview, AlArabiya, 10.13.2019
Turkey and the SDF
Commentary has – unsurprising – has been deeply critical of Turkey’s incursion into Northern Syria, although relatively little on social or legacy media has discussed the role of the United States.
It is true that the vague position of US President Donald Trump, who withdrew his troops from northern Syria in a clear implicit signal, helped Erdogan make his decision to invade the country; however, we must bear in mind that all US institutions oppose the Turkish aggression, and President Trump’s move finds support from neither the Congress’ Republicans and Democrats, nor the Pentagon. We should pay attention here that once the United States decides to return to support the Kurds, which is a probability, Turkey will be the first prey… Salman al-Dossary, Aawsat, 10.11.2019
The Arabic-language affiliate of the Independent, edited by Adhwan al-Ahmari – a source of some controversy in the UK – scored an interview with L. Paul Bremer III, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority from May 2003 until June 2004. Bremer – once referred to by Newt Gingrich as “the largest single disaster in American foreign policy in modern times” – has not held any meaningful public office or academic position since leaving Iraq more than 15 years ago.
I doubt there’s anything in here that Bremer hasn’t said before – blaming the Kurds and the Shia for having to dissolve the Iraqi military, and Iraqi politicians for failures of governance in the early years of the occupation; continuing to offer a simplistic comparison to de-Nazification as justification for the policy of de-Ba’athification, even if the decisions about both army and party were likely made above his pay grade.
Despite recent efforts to downplay the dislike of President Obama within the Kingdom, though, the editors twist the interview’s content quite a lot to justify the title, “Bremer, the governor of Iraq after the fall of Saddam: Obama withdrew US troops as a gift of the country to Iran and ISIS.” The relevant exchange:
[Armari] I added to my previous question other information that stated the  withdrawal [of U.S. forces] was a gift from Obama to Iran. He replied, “Well, I’m sure it was a gift to ISIS. The direct beneficiary is ISIS, and the Iranians are not fans of ISIS as we know, but the final effect was to give Iran more room to act. “