Moscow accrued power in the Middle East in 2015 by sending troops to Syria, where it and Iran have been key backers of President Bashar al-Assad amid civil war, while the United States pulled back.
On the eve of Putin’s trip, U.S. troops were evacuating northern Syria as their erstwhile Kurdish allies struck a deal with Assad’s Russian-backed army aimed at halting a Turkish offensive.
Russia has also strengthened ties with both Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran, which are locked in a decades-old contest for influence that veered towards open conflict after a recent spate of attacks on oil assets in the Gulf that Riyadh and Washington blame on Tehran. Iran denies the charges.
Tensions with Iran, which is locked in several proxy wars with Saudi Arabia including in Syria, have risen to new highs after Washington last year quit a 2015 international nuclear accord with Tehran and re-imposed sanctions.
Putin, accompanied on the trip by his energy minister and head of Russia’s wealth fund, is due to hold talks with King Salman and de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom Putin says he has friendly relations.
The strengthened ties have seen non-OPEC Russia, once regarded as a rival in oil markets, join OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia in forming an alliance known as OPEC+ to support crude prices by restraining output.
Ahead of the visit, Putin, who offered to provide Russian defense systems to the kingdom after Sept. 14 attacks on its oil facilities, said he could also play a positive role in easing tensions with Tehran as he had good ties with both sides.
Any progress on long-mulled Saudi plans to purchase the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems would cause disquiet in Washington, which announced over the weekend it was sending around 3,000 troops and additional air defense systems to Saudi Arabia following last month’s attack.
Source: Reuters News