The Russian visit to Saudi Arabia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to the Gulf fell during a period of trials between the new United States administration and the GCC countries, primarily Saudi Arabia. Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s “golden age” came to an end when former President Donald Trump stepped down and was replaced by Democrat Joseph Biden. During the four years of the Donald Trump presidency, the Saudi Crown Prince had a completely free reign on regional issues. Neither the Royal Court’s involvement in the assassination of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, nor the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen caused by the Saudi-led coalition, nor the Saudi escalation of regional tension (whether it be relations with Iran or the conflict with Qatar) led to a revision of US-Saudi relations. The previous US administration saw Muhammad bin Salman as one of the pillars of Washington’s Middle East policy and, therefore, turned a blind eye to all of Riyadh’s adventures. Moreover, Trump, during his 2017 visit to Riyadh, gave Saudi Arabia an “indulgence” in the form of a $ 110 billion[i] arms contract even amid the repeated reports of the killings of civilians in Yemen by the Saudi-led Arab coalition[ii].

From the Democrats’ positions in the American Congress during the second half of the 2010s, it became clear that a Biden win would result in a revision of American-Saudi relations. As it happened, Biden announced the end of American support for the Saudi-led coalition in early February 2021.[iii] This was followed by a declassified US intelligence report which implicated Muhammad bin Salman as an accomplice in the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi.[iv] In a subsequent telephone conversation with King Salman, Joseph Biden stated that “the rules are changing and we’re going to be announcing significant changes” [v] in US-Saudi relations.