To invite the king: how relationship of Tatarstan and Saudi Arabia developed

The first visit of the KSA delegation under Minnikhanov took place in 2011, while the relations between two countries have been lasting since 1926

King of Saudi Arabia Salman Abdulaziz Ibn Saud paid his first visit to Russia on 5 October. He was going to meet with Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov. Realnoe Vremya recalls how the relations between Tatarstan and Saudi Arabia developed and tells the great importance of this visit.

Syria, weapon supply and oil

King of Saudi Arabia Salman Abdulaziz Ibn Saud's visit to Russia started with a curious episode. When the ruler of the Near Eastern country was going to go down after arriving in the government terminal Vnukovo-2, the golden escalator he takes with himself broke down. The king had to go downstairs on foot.

Kommersant tells that Moscow prepared contracts at over $3 billion by the king's arrival. The set of contracts also includes the supply of several Triumf S-400 anti-aircraft weapon systems. The newspaper calls the situation in the oil market and exchange of opinions about the situation in Yemen, Egypt and Syria as other topics that were discussed during the negotiations. It is not specified what problems were going to be discussed during the meeting. After a meeting in the representative office, there was going to be an official reception due to the monarch's visit where the Tatarstan head was to be present in.

Salman Abdulaziz Ibn Saud already had scheduled negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the same day. He was also to meet with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Friday. It is curious that Rustam Minnikhanov was mentioned among the participants of the meeting with the Saudi king and Putin. And it is not accidental.

The fact that the Tatarstan representatives chaired by Rustam Minnikhanov were allowed to the holiest place of Islam during Umrah (short pilgrimage to Mecca) – inside the Kaaba — is the most important thing from a perspective of status. Photo: vk.com

Mr Minnikhanov invited and the kind did not deny

The reasons for this visit of King of Saudi Arabia Salman Abdulaziz Ibn Saudi were founded including during Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov's business trip to this country in February 2017. Then the visit was linked with a wide diplomatic and business programme: apart from the meeting with the head of Saudi Arabia and the country's crown prince, the Tatarstan president met with the country's minister of commerce and industry, president of the Islamic Development Bank, representatives of big companies and heads of several big international organisations of the Islamic world. The republic's delegation also participated in 'Tatarstan – Saudi Arabia' business forum. However, the fact that the Tatarstan representatives chaired by Rustam Minnikhanov were allowed to the holiest place of Islam during Umrah (short pilgrimage to Mecca) – inside the Kaaba — is the most important thing from a perspective of status. Not everyone is able to get there: the sacral place's doors open only by the personal permission of the king of Saudi Arabia. Realnoe Vremya's experts already stated that the permission to get inside the Muslims' most sacral place was a kind of ticket to the highest Islamic political circles.

Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov gave Vladimir Putin's invitation to the king of Saudi Arabia right during this visit. Kamil Iskhakov, president of the Bolgarian Islamic Academy, recalls that then the Tatarstan president said: ''Mr Putin asked to give you our invitation once again, that's to say, we would like you very much to confirm that you will certainly pay a visit to Russia'. In answer, the king said: ''I promise that I will certainly come this year, but not in winter''. The king was also expected to visit Tatarstan. But he won't be able to visit the republic due to his busy programme.

The first meeting of 'Russia – Islamic World' strategic vision group took place in Moscow in March 2006. Photo: Mikhail Kozlovsky

Baton from Primakov and Shaimiev

We need to note that relations with the Islamic world are within Rustam Minnikhanov's interests. In fact, he can be called the Kremlin's messenger in this business because he is the head of 'Russia – Islamic World' strategic vision group. This group was created in 2006 under first Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev and Evgeny Primakov, who chaired the Russian Chamber of Trade and Industry then. In 2008, the meeting was in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia). After the session in 2009, its activity had almost a 6-year break.

As President of the Bolgarian Islamic Academy Kamil Iskhakov who was Permanent Ambassador of Russia to OIC told Realnoe Vremya, during the work of the organisation, meetings at the highest state level were not held, as a rule. But there was regular cooperation at the level of ministries on diplomatic and economic issues.

The group started to work again in 2015, and Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed Rustam Minnikhanov as chairman of the group. The first meeting with new Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which was headed by Iyad bin Amin Madani then, took place during this group's work. This organisation was created in 1969 and is one of the biggest and most influential in the Islamic world. It unites over 50 countries and has 16 divisions. The Islamic Development Bank whose authorised capital exceeds $150 billion is among them. Russia participates in OIC as observer.

Minnikhanov also invited the delegation of Saudi Arabia headed by the country's Minister of Commerce and Industry Majed Al Kassabi to participate in Kazan Summit business forum. Photo: prav.tatarstan.ru

Small commodity turnover and big plans

We need to remind that at the last meeting, Minnikhanov also invited the Saudi Arabian delegation headed by the country's Minister of Commerce and Industry Majed Al Kassabi to participate in Kazan Summit business forum, which annually takes place in Tatarstan. Saudi Arabia is a permanent guest of this event, and its delegation is called the biggest at the summit.

In 2015, the bilateral external turnover between Saudi Arabia and Tatarstan was about $11 billion. The export accounted for $6,8 million and import — $4 million. However, in the same year, director of Investment Development Agency Taliya Minullina told about plans of investors from Saudi Arabia to invest to $10 billion in the Russian economy. And during the 2015 Kazan Summit, the heir of Saudi Arabia's prince stated about their readiness to invest right in Tatarstan.

Nowadays, particularly KAMAZ PJSC has commercial links with the Arab country. During Minnikhanov's latest visit, cooperation with Tatarstan oil companies, Kazan Helicopters PJSC, Kazan Motor Building Production Association JSC, Kazankompressormash PJSC and agricultural companies was discussed.

Representatives of Saudi Arabia visited Tatarstan first during Rustam Minnikhanov's presidency in 2011. Photo: prav.tatarstan.ru

To meet more often

Representatives of Saudi Arabia visited Tatarstan first during Rustam Minnikhanov's presidency first in 2011. The delegation was chaired by Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Saudi Arabia Sheikh Saleh Abdullah Kamel. Then Minnikhanov drew the guests' attention saying that Tatarstan could become a good site for the entrance of Saudi Arabic enterprises to the Russian market. The main cooperation areas of the Arab country and Tatarstan were also defined.

Tatarstan's delegation paid a return visit to Saudi Arabia in 2013. During this trip, Rustam Minnikhanov delivered a speech at the opening of the international economic forum in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), met with OIC representatives and heads of big enterprises of the country. The visit in 2014 also had a similar programme – in addition, Tatarstan's representatives participated in the king of Saudi Arabia's official reception.

''I know how very Saudi Arabs want to be closer to us at different levels''

Kamil Iskhakov reminded that diplomatic relations of Russia and Saudi Arabia have quite an unclear history. They began after recognising Saudi Arabia as country in 1926. However, after Soviet Ambassador Karim Khakimov's shooting in 1937 under the Stalinist regime, the country cut all the diplomatic relations with the USSR for almost 50 years.

''Diplomatic relations recovered when Perestroika in the USSR began both formally and really. The relations continued improving since then. We moved forward bit by bit and now we have reached the summit when the heads of the countries meet and will discuss the topical problems,'' Iskhakov told.

''Our working area is very wide. We can cooperate on many issues. And we have things for them to learn – especially in oil refining and so on,'' Kamil Iskhakov thinks. Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

The Bolgarian Islamic Academy president and Tatarstan president's aide characterises the meaning of this meeting for Russia and Tatarstan as 'colossal'.

''The last time we had such a meeting was many years ago. And as a person who has worked and lived there for four years, I know how very Saudi Arabs want to be closer to us at different levels, establish neighbourly, good relations,'' Iskhakov thinks. ''Our working area is very wide. We can cooperate on many issues. And we have things for them to learn – especially in oil refining and so on. And this meeting is important for Russia because Saudi Arabia carries great weight in the Islamic world.''

By Aleksandr Artemyev
Society Authorities