Vladimir Putin was greeted on Monday in Saudi Arabia, where he is supposed to seal the oil deal with the Saudis and try to use his influence to reduce tensions in the Gulf between Riyadh and Tehran.
Hailed by gunfire on his arrival at Ryad airport, Putin was accompanied by Saudi riders carrying Russian flags, to the royal palace where he was received by King Salman and Prince heir Mohammed ben Salman.
Relaxed and smiling, the Russian president and the Saudi king briefly spoke before a solemn reception in honor of Vladimir Putin, according to the images of Saudi television.
Talks between the two leaders and their respective delegations, as well as those between Putin and the Crown Prince, will be held later in the day and will be dominated by oil.
Saudi Arabia, the leader of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and Russia, although not a member of the group, have been working closely together in recent years to limit the supply of black gold and try to 'bring back the price.
The latest extension of production cuts, decided by 24 oil-producing states, collectively known as "Opep +", expires at the end of March 2020.
According to Russia's Energy Minister Alexander Novak, Moscow and Ryad are expected to sign a long-term co-operation charter for Opep + on Monday, formalizing a deal approved in summer in Vienna.
- "Very good relations" -
"We will definitely work with Saudi Arabia and our other partners and friends in the Arab world ... to reduce to zero any attempt to destabilize the oil market," Putin said in an interview with Arabic-speaking TV channels - broadcast Sunday on the eve of his visit.
On this occasion he praised "his very good relations with the king, as with the Crown Prince".
Moscow and Ryad, traditional ally of the United States, have shown in recent years a spectacular rapprochement, marked in particular by a visit to Russia King Salman in October 2017, the first historic.
A year later, while Mohammed bin Salman was under fire after the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, Vladimir Putin greeted the Saudi Crown Prince with an enthusiastic and highly-regarded handshake in front of the G20 leaders .
Armed with these relations with Ryad and at the same time allied to Iran, the kingdom's sworn enemy, Moscow could seek to "play the role of peacemaker" in the Iran-Saudi tensions, believes the Russian political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov.
The conflict saw a new outbreak of fever, particularly in September, during attacks targeting Saudi oil facilities. These were claimed by the Houthi rebels of Yemen, supported by Tehran, that fights a military alliance led by Arabia.
But Ryad and Washington have questioned Iran, while Tehran has denied any involvement and warned against "total war" in the event of an attack on its territory.
- Create "a positive dynamic" -
Not taking part, Russia reacted by sweeping the "hasty conclusions" against Iran.
"As far as Russia is concerned, we will do our utmost to create the necessary conditions for a positive momentum" aimed at easing tensions, Mr Putin said in his interview with Arabic-language television channels.
In Syria, the Russians, allied with the regime of Bashar al-Assad and Iran, and the Saudis, who support the opposition, are in opposing camps. The Syrian conflict will be on the agenda of Vladimir Putin's talks in Riyadh, said Kremlin adviser Yuri Ushakov.
"It is important for Russia that an Arab country participates in the political settlement in Syria," says Lukyanov, because so far "only three non-Arab countries" are involved, Turkey, Russia and Iran.
Finally, the visit is expected to lead to the signing of some 30 agreements and contracts, including a dozen in the high-technology sectors - notably artificial intelligence, energy and infrastructure - for an amount of more than two billion dollars.
In October 2017, Russia and Saudi Arabia also signed a memorandum of understanding paving the way for Ryad's purchase of the S-400s, powerful Russian anti-aircraft missile systems.
After Saudi Arabia, Vladimir Putin will travel to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday to meet with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed ben Zayed Al-Nahyan.
© 2019 AFP