Five decades of broken diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union (1938-1992) offer some perspective into the significance of King Salman’s expected visit to Moscow next week, the first ever by a Saudi monarch.
In 1926, after Moscow recognized King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud’s conquest of the Hijaz, formal diplomatic ties were established, but they did not advance much. The goal of exporting the communist, atheist model worldwide, often via local proxies, inevitably made the Soviet Union an enemy of Saudi Arabia, which naturally drifted toward the pro-US camp during the Cold War.
Among other conflicts, Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union found themselves on opposing sides of North Yemen’s civil war between royalists and republicans in the 1960s, and later during the decade-long Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.
Soviet support for Arab nationalist regimes in Egypt, Iraq and Syria, as well as a Marxist insurgency in Oman, and the rise of a Marxist state in South Yemen, made the communist threat look very real from Riyadh.
Only the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the obvious failure of various Marxist projects in the Middle East, defused the natural incompatibilities between the two states. But considerable disagreements remained around such issues as oil production policy, the conflict in Chechnya and Russia’s support for Iran’s nuclear program.
Under Russian President Vladimir Putin and the late King Abdullah, bilateral relations gradually reached steadier ground, partially due to Putin’s pragmatic foreign policy approach. Over the last three years, unprecedented progress was made toward what both sides have seen as untapped economic potential to be explored.
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