The Saudi visit indicates the growing influence of Putin in the Middle East

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For the first time in over a decade, Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Saudi Arabia, seeking to capitalize on the growing influence of military advances in Syria, strong ties with regional rivals, and energy policy cooperation.

U.S. troops were evacuating northern Syria on the eve of Putin’s trip as their former Kurdish allies struck an agreement with Assad’s Russian-backed army to halt a Turkish offensive.

Russia has also established relations with both Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran, which are locked up after a recent spate of attacks in a decades-old fight for power that turned into open conflict.

Tensions with Iran, locked up in several proxy wars with Saudi Arabia including Syria, have risen to new heights after Washington quit a 2015 international nuclear agreement with Tehran last year and re-imposed sanctions.

Putin, accompanied by his energy minister and head of Russia’s wealth fund on his visit, is expected to have talks with King Salman and de facto Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom Putin says he has friendly relations.

Non-OPEC Russia, once seen as a competitor in oil markets, has joined OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia in forming an alliance known as OPEC+ to boost crude prices by reducing supply.

Prior to the visit, Putin, who agreed to provide the Kingdom with Russian defense systems after 14 attacks on its oil installations, said he could also play a positive role in alleviating tensions.

Any progress on long-mulled Saudi plans to purchase the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems would cause disquiet in Washington, which declared that after last month’s assault it was sending about 3,000 troops and additional air defense systems to Saudi Arabia.

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