Saudi Arabia and Russia strengthen bilateral ties with trade and investment in focus

Rayed Krimly, Saudi ambassador to Russia
Updated 14 October 2019

Saudi Arabia and Russia strengthen bilateral ties with trade and investment in focus

  • There is a growing interest by the Russian business community to explore Saudi markets
  • Saudi Arabia is involved with several Russian investment projects

RIYADH: A major transformation is underway in Saudi Arabia’s economic and cultural relationship with Russia, said top experts and diplomats.
According to Saudi Ambassador to Russia Dr. Rayed Krimly, there is a growing interest by the Russian business community to explore Saudi markets and open new avenues for trade and investment.
“Bilateral trade rose by 86 percent in 2017, and further increased by 49 percent in 2018,” he said.
Krimly said that both Saudi Aramco and SABIC are considering investing in Russian gas and energy projects. He added that there will be a large Russian delegation at this year’s Future Investment Initiative.
“Cooperation in the fields of investment, trade and energy is expanding all the time,” he said.
Saudi Arabia is involved with several Russian investment projects. In housing and urban development, the Kingdom has invested in the construction of a technopark on the former “Tushino” aerodrome territory.
Another Saudi investment project is a waste-to-energy program to provide electricity for 1 million people, implemented jointly with Hitachi and the Rostec State Corp. The project aims to reduce waste dumping in the Moscow region by 30 percent.
The Kingdom has also partnered with China, Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE to develop transport infrastructure in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The northern bypass for Kutuzovsky Avenue, a major radial road in Russia’s capital, will reduce time spent in traffic by 6.9 million vehicle hours annually while the length of congested road sections will be cut by 72.2km.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Russia Energy Week summit in Moscow, Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), told Arab News that there would be new business deals in oil, agriculture, tourism and petrochemicals.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Bilateral trade rose by 86 percent in 2017, and further increased by 49 percent in 2018.

• Saudi Arabia is involved with several Russian investment projects including construction of a technopark and a waste-to-energy program to provide electricity for 1 million people.

• The Kingdom recently increased the number of Russian pilgrims for Hajj and Umrah by 5,000.

• The Saudi Ministry of Culture is also developing several programs of cooperation with Russia.

 “We are going to be signing more than 10 new investment agreements between Russia and Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“One example is a joint investment with Saudi Aramco in Novomet, in order to supply pumps to Saudi Aramco, which will be investing with RDIF in this company,” he added.
Ties have been strengthened by the large Muslim communities in Russia. According to the Saudi Embassy in Moscow, there are more than 20 million Russian Muslims, making up about 14 percent of the country’s total population.
Zarina Doguzova, head of Russia’s Federal Agency for Tourism, said the Kingdom recently increased the number of Russian pilgrims for Hajj and Umrah by 5,000, bringing the total visiting for pilgrimage to 25,000.
The Saudi Ministry of Culture is developing several programs of cooperation with Russia.
Saudi Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Farhan Al-Saud has visited Russia twice, first in November last year, where he posted a selfie with Russian President Vladimir Putin on his Twitter account during the 7th St. Petersburg International Cultural Forum.
The forum, which ran between Nov. 15 and 17, was held under the theme “Culture as a Strategic Potential of the Country,” was attended by visitors from 101 countries.
The second visit was in May, where he met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Medinsky and Deputy Prime Minister for Sports, Tourism and Culture Olga Golodets. They discussed ways in which Saudi-Russian cultural relations can be enhanced.


UK ambassador reflects on five ‘big years’ in Saudi Arabia

Outgoing UK Ambassador Simon Collis speaks during an interview with Arab News in Riyadh. (AN photo by Saleh Al-Ghanem)
Updated 27 January 2020

UK ambassador reflects on five ‘big years’ in Saudi Arabia

  • Gap between perception and reality of Kingdom, says Simon Collis

RIYADH: Britain’s outgoing ambassador to Saudi Arabia said it has been a privilege to be in the country for the last five years and witness the changes in the Kingdom firsthand.

Simon Collis joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1978 and has been an ambassador in Iraq, Syria and Qatar. He has also held senior diplomatic positions in Bahrain, Tunisia, Jordan, Dubai and India.
His diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia began a week after King Salman came to the throne in January 2015. A personal highlight was performing the Hajj in 2016 with wife Huda.
The five years that we’ve been here have been five big years, not only for us but five big years ... in the history of Saudi Arabia and certainly in the relationship with the UK,” he told Arab News. “It’s been just a wonderful time.”
He said there used to be concern about the role of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, known as the Mutawa’a or religious police, and its unchecked power.
“There were people that would be nervous about it. There was no music in public places, there was no mixing in restaurants. In 2015 no one would have imagined just how much these changes would be, first with (the reform plan) Vision 2030, then economic, and also social changes, women driving, the removal of the guardianship laws across pretty much everything, and the balancing role of the Mutawa’a.”
He welcomed the government’s emphasis on developing the entertainment and cultural sectors, calling it a “tremendous story,” and said he had enjoyed witnessing the Kingdom’s transformation.
“To see the enthusiasm in a young country, I think a lot of these new sectors, creative entertainment, on top of the existing ones like education, have been a delight to see. Of course, it’s not finished yet. I think this period, these five years, will look like a big moment in the history of the Kingdom.”
Changes in the Kingdom have attracted interest — and greater visitor numbers — from overseas.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Simon Collis joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1978 and has been an ambassador in Iraq, Syria and Qatar.

• He has also held senior diplomatic positions in Bahrain, Tunisia, Jordan, Dubai and India.

• His diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia began a week after King Salman came to the throne in January 2015.

• A personal highlight was performing the Hajj in 2016 with wife Huda.

The country is gaining a reputation for hosting massive events featuring the world’s biggest names including boxing match Clash On The Dunes pitting Britain’s Anthony Joshua against Mexican-American Andy Ruiz Jr, the electronic dance music festival MDL Beast featuring David Guetta and Steve Aoki, and concerts from K-Pop megastars BTS and Super Junior.
The ambassador said there was a gap between the perception of the Kingdom and the country’s on-the-ground reality.
“In any country, there is a gap between the perception that the image that exists in the world, and the reality that you find. This is true of any country. That gap between the perception and reality has been bigger in relation to Saudi Arabia than to any other country that I’ve lived in. So, the result is once people visit and they see for themselves, then they change their overall perception. They change their minds, and this is a very powerful thing.”
Tens of thousands of UK nationals visit the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah every year to perform Hajj and Umrah, but the reasons to visit the country are increasing.
Collis said that 43,000 people from the UK had taken advantage of a new e-visa system launched last October to visit Saudi Arabia, the highest number in the world.
“Every year we’ve seen the number of Saudi nationals visiting the UK increase, now it’s coming the other way,” Collis said. “With a population of less than 70 million, and it’s the No. 1 country visiting Saudi Arabia more than any other country, I’m very proud of that. I would say that of the hundreds and thousands of British people who I have met visiting Saudi Arabia for the first time, every single person I have met has left with a more positive (outlook) than the one that they arrived with. So, more visits must mean more people have a better idea of the realities of this country, society and its people.”
Collis said he had met many Saudis and forged friendships with them. People in the Kingdom had integrity and were straightforward, and the ambassador had special praise for the younger generation saying there was a “natural enjoyment” when he sat with them to talk. They were very aware, he added.

NUMBER

43,000 - people from the UK had taken advantage of a new e-visa system launched last October to visit Saudi Arabia, the highest number in the world.

His regard for young Saudis is evident. He launched the Alumni Awards, which recognize Saudi students who have returned to the Kingdom, excelled and succeeded in their professions or made an impact in their communities. With more than 100,000 Saudis studying in the UK over the last 10 years, the program will be developed in order to increase engagement with them once they return to Saudi Arabia.
The national and global awards initiative is aimed at showcasing the impact and value of a UK higher education, and winners and finalists are leaders in their fields.
“The Alumni Awards are fun. What the award looks at, whether it’s an entrepreneur or professional or social category, it’s not what did you do in the UK with your studies, it’s when you got your qualification, what did you do in Saudi Arabia when you came back. How did you use it? It’s about what use you put it to, not what you get, but how did you use it to further your own career, your life and that of your community and others around you,” Collis said.
Collis is succeeded as the UK’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia by Neil Crompton, who takes up the role next month.