Seven sanctioned Russian companies, including a maker of military helicopters deployed in the Ukraine war, will visit Saudi Arabia next week as part of a trade mission to boost business with the Gulf state.
Companies including arms manufacturers with direct ties to the Russian military, state-owned companies involved in the invasion of Ukraine and the agency that oversees a Ukrainian nuclear power plant that was seized by the Russian military last year will be in attendance.
Saudi Arabia’s willingness to develop business ties with Russian companies sanctioned by Western countries for its involvement in the invasion of Ukraine could further strain its already tense relationship with Washington.
Russia’s Deputy Industry and Trade Minister Alexey Gruzdev hailed the trade event as the first of its kind. “Our business mission to Riyadh is aimed at strengthening economic ties between Russia and Saudi Arabia, identifying new business opportunities, exchanging ideas and building long-term partnerships,” he said.
Companies integral to Russia’s military-industrial sector were listed as attendees at Monday’s event in Riyadh. Among them is Russian Helicopters, maker of the Ka-52 Alligator helicopter.At least According to Dutch open-source media Oryx, 35 Ka-52s were shot down by Ukrainian forces or abandoned by Russia.
Armored vehicle maker Kamaz, sanctioned for aiding Russia in the war effort, was also listed as a participant. In March 2022, its trucks were spotted in Belarus carrying Iskander missiles it said were fired early in the invasion, and its Typhoon vehicles were also reportedly transporting Russian soldiers across Ukrainian territory.
Perhaps the most important player in the meeting with the Saudis was Rostec, the Russian state-owned defense systems and technology company that supplied weapons used during the invasion of Ukraine. These include the Solntsepyok heavy flamethrower system, the Zemledeliye remote mining vehicle and various rocket launch systems.
The U.S. Treasury Department described Rostec as a “cornerstone of Russian defense, industry, technology and manufacturing” in a sanctions notice issued in June.
Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear energy company, was also listed as a participant. Rosatom assisted the Russian military in seizing the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant last year and took over management of the facility, according to Ukrainian officials and reports. Rosatom has denied the claims.
A source familiar with the goals of Saudi trade activity said Russian representatives were seeking to secure joint investments in commercial projects, aid to maintain oil and gas prices and other diplomatic support.
The Saudi Investment Ministry is exploring the possibility of opening an office in Moscow and has recently held similar trade forums with Chinese companies, although those do not involve companies with ties to the Chinese military, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. .
“The difference here is a major shift in Saudi policy toward Russia and China, rather than the U.S. and Western Europe, and these recent business events are just one sign of that,” the source said.
Saudi-Moscow relations have created tensions in Washington. Last year, Saudi Arabia sided with Russia on U.S. interests when it decided to cut oil production on the eve of U.S. midterm elections, prompting Joe Biden to threaten Saudi Arabia with “consequences” for the decision.
Asked about the planned Saudi-Russia trade meeting, a State Department spokesman said the United States would continue to focus on “ensuring that our sanctions and export controls are properly enforced.”
“We encourage countries and businesses to conduct due diligence and avoid dealing with sanctioned persons in order to avoid sanctions,” the spokesman said. The U.S. Treasury Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Since last year, the White House has dropped threats against Riyadh. But anger at Mohammed bin Salman’s government remained widespread among Democrats and various Republicans on Capitol Hill, some of whom said they were concerned that Saudi Arabia might share sensitive information with its Russian ally. US defense technology.
“Saudi Arabia’s support for Russia, in addition to its history of human rights abuses, should prompt a serious review of U.S.-Saudi relations,” said Ro Khanna, a Democratic congressman and longtime Saudi critic.
The UK government is also likely to be frustrated by next week’s trade meeting, which takes place shortly after a British trade mission aimed at securing an investment deal between Britain and the Gulf Cooperation Council, of which Saudi Arabia is a member.
At this week’s Qatar Economic Forum, Saudi Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih, who sat next to British Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch, declared Riyadh to be “the politics of the Middle East.” capital”. Falih’s deputy is listed as a speaker at a Russian trade conference next week.
Saudi Arabia is trying to position itself geopolitically as a partner of several major powers — essentially dealing with all sides – That was evident at a conference in California earlier this month, when Falih told business and politicians that Riyadh had no intention of being beholden to established ties.
He said: “We believe that our relationship with the United States will not come at the expense of our ability to build relationships with other powerful economic and political friends and partners around the world. This can be traced back to a multipolar world, emerging middle powers … …will seek its own interests.”
Asked about tensions between Washington and Riyadh, Falih was visibly annoyed, noting that Saudi Arabia already trades more with China than with the United States and the European Union combined. “Do you want us to take this risk just to make some country think we’re on their side?” he said.