Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has reached a deal with the Russian Direct Investment Fund to invest $10 billion into Russian projects for infrastructure, retail, logistics, and agriculture for a period of up to five years. Reports also indicate that the RDIF has agreed to invest jointly with Saudi Arabia’s General Investment Authority in Saudi Arabia as well as in other regional projects. The agreement comes as King Salman considers a trip to Moscow, following last month’s visit by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Despite the on-paper promises, it’s not certain whether any money will actually change hands. And even if it does, this could well be window dressing—the Saudis trying to catch Washington’s eye and Russia hoping Europe will notice. (Indeed, the FT quotes one of the Russian officials who negotiated the deal as saying, in closing, that “Europe needs to continue to work with Russia.”) But there could be more to it than that. Russia’s relationship with Iran deeply concerns the Saudis. And for their part, if the Russians think the Saudis could tone down jihadi support for Chechens and other movements of concern to Moscow, that would be worth something.
One thing is clear—where until recently the country was highly conservative, Saudi freelancing in foreign policy seems to be continuing. Between the new king and the low trust in the U.S. engendered by the prospective Iran deal, Riyadh seems increasingly determined, as it sees it, to forge its own destiny.