Putin keen on co-operation and trade ties with Gulf nations, says Lavrov

GCC and Russian foreign ministers met in Moscow on Monday

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, centre, meets his GCC counterparts and the group's Secretary General in Moscow. Reuters
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Representatives of Gulf-Co-operation Council countries met in Moscow on Monday for a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, during which all sides affirmed the need to strengthen trade relations.

In the sixth meeting of its kind this year, GCC Secretary General Jassim Al Budaiwi said that in addition to trade, the Black Sea Grain Initiative was also on the agenda.

The summit comes ahead of a Nato meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania, which will focus on western support for Ukraine.

The Black Sea deal has seen more than 30 million tonnes of grain transported through the waterway since the agreement was signed in July 2022. The threat of its suspension arose after Russia accused the West of sanctioning its food and fertiliser exports.

Mr Lavrov said Russia's trade with the six-member bloc that includes the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman had rapidly expanded by 6 per cent last year, reaching $11 billion.

Mr Lavrov said on Monday that efforts by the UN to ensure the implementation of the “Russian part” of the Black Sea grain export deal had not yet yielded results.

“These incredible efforts have not produced any result at all,” Mr Lavrov told a press conference after meeting foreign ministers from the GCC.

Moscow has repeatedly said it sees no grounds to extend the grain deal beyond July 17.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is “keen on communication and co-operation with the Gulf states”, Mr Lavrov said.

Opening the meeting, he said the group would discuss “all the challenges facing us and the strategic Gulf region”.

The meeting is intended to “strengthen relations and serve the interests of the two sides”, GCC Secretary General Jassim Al Budaiwi said.

“Various topics will be discussed in order to increase co-operation and provide an opportunity to exchange views on a number of regional and international issues.”

Mr Al Budaiwi said the meeting in Moscow would be aimed at forging ties between Russia and the Gulf nations, as the parties plan to focus on international and regional co-operation issues.

The UAE was represented at the meeting by Khalifa Al Marar, Minister of State.

Black Sea grain deal

Gulf countries look to enhance “all forms” of co-operation with Russia, the GCC Secretary General said, and to extend the grain deal across other Black Sea ports to enhance global security, “particularly for developing countries”.

The Black Sea is an export route for about 20 per cent of global wheat exports. The disruption caused to agricultural production in Ukraine has exacerbated a global surge in food prices.

Ministers reviewed ways to enhance Gulf-Russian relations and efforts to resolve the war in Ukraine, in addition to strengthening economic co-operation, said a statement from Saudi Arabia's Spa news agency.

Mr Lavrov met Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on the sidelines of the meeting, the Foreign Ministry said.

The pair reviewed strategic co-operation and historic relations between the two countries, Riyadh said in a statement, and “ways to strengthen and develop them in all fields.”

Ukraine crisis

The talks come more than a year after Mr Lavrov attended a foreign ministerial meeting of the GCC in Riyadh, months after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.

Countries of the GCC have maintained neutrality on the war.

“Our position on the Russian-Ukrainian crisis is based on the principles of international law and the UN Charter,” Mr Al Budaiwi said during an address to the meeting on Monday.

In March, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said on a visit to Moscow that Riyadh was ready to mediate in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Mr Lavrov said GCC-Russian relations are developing well, with “significantly increased” contact at the highest levels over the last year.

“Russia and the countries of the co-operation council have all the necessary mechanisms to successfully solve the common tasks facing us, promote mutually beneficial partnership, and transfer it to a systemic strategic basis,” he said.

He added that both sides are taking “consistent steps” to expand economic ties.

“Trade isn't developing evenly with every country here, but the general trend is positive.”

In the year before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, trade between the GCC and Russia stood at $5 billion, according to figures compiled by the Washington Institute for Middle East Policy, a think tank.

Since then, Russia’s economy has been subjected to stringent international sanctions. Until recently, the economy has held up, despite falling oil revenue.

In May, Saudi Deputy Minister of Investment Badr Al Badr said that the kingdom aimed to significantly expand trade with Russia, which was the 14th largest exporter to the kingdom.

“In 2022, the value of the Saudi exports to Russia was only 2 per cent of the value of imports from Russia. This is clearly a major opportunistic area for us,” Mr Al Badr said.

Mediation and aid

In September, Russia released 10 prisoners of war captured in Ukraine after mediation by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Arabia has also strengthened its relationship with Kyiv, sending significant amounts of humanitarian aid, as well as mediating between Russia, the US and Ukraine on prisoner exchanges.

In February, Saudi Arabia announced “an additional humanitarian aid package to Ukraine worth $300 million”, Spa reported.

Aid worth $100 million was also announced by the Adviser at the Royal Court and Supervisor General of King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre, or KSrelief.

In May, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited Jeddah for the Arab League summit, where he addressed the country and Arab states, saying he wanted “to thank Saudi Arabia and the majority of you for supporting international positions and the UN Charter”.

“KSA plays a significant role and we are ready to take our co-operation to a new level,” Mr Zelenskyy said on Twitter.

Of the kingdom’s role in prisoner exchanges and mediation, speaker of the Arab Parliament Adel bin Abdul Rahman Al Assoumi praised Saudi Arabia for “supporting peace and stability efforts in all parts of the world, expressing the Arab Parliament's appreciation for that step that contributed to the release of prisoners in co-operation with the governments of Russia and Ukraine”.

Updated: July 10, 2023, 4:40 PM