A cauldron of shifting alliances, seething revolts and constant unrest — these are some of the unique characteristics of Middle-Eastern politics, especially after World War-I. Syrian conflict, the Sunni-Shia Schism, the proxy wars. Move a little towards east where the long standing crisis between Israel and Palestine never seems to settle. To the south, one can see Yemen, what used to be called Arabia Felix (the Happy Arabia), pillaged and destroyed by the Saudi-led coalition. Perhaps that is why their (Saudi’s) thirst for weapons is never satiated. Not to mention the proxy wars and the burden of taking care of their supplies. Read about who is supporting whom in this odd mix of alliances and rivalries and one is bewildered by the vortex of diplomatic frictions and regional rivalries. The recent historic visit of a Saudi monarch to Russia is one amidst the array of policies, preferences and alliances that are going to shape the future Middle-East and the world. The connection between energy and diplomacy is always blatant here in Middle-East. One can see economic conditions give echo to a changing security situation further shaping diplomacy. Amongst the deals signed, besides weapons, were Aramco’s with Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) in the area of oil refining, and with Russian Gazprom to collaborate on drilling technologies, R&D and employee exchange program. The deals between KSA and Russia can be considered as the former’s way of hedging its bets, by trying not to put all its eggs in one basket Oil prices and future of Crude are some of the most glaring incentives behind the recent camaraderie. The glue that holds the US and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia together is oil and petro-dollars. However, recently, the glue seems to be getting weak. USA’s oil production is now approaching 10 million barrels per day (as per the recent estimates) making it able to stand in the same category as KSA and Russia (the largest oil producers). KSA’s decision to not to curb production in 2014 and revolutionary changes in Fracking technology played a vital role in this regard. The upshot is that US is now no longer dependent, in the sense it used to be (recall the 1973s oil embargo), on KSA. The latter has realised this and that without the cooperation of Russia, it cannot hope for a stable/high oil price. The impending IPO of Aramco coupled with budgetary deficits presents a strong case underlining the importance of higher oil prices for the Kingdom. The visit was not only about weapons and security but also to strengthen and deepen energy ties. Russia’s support is the lifeline of the Kingdom now. Russia is not immune either. For every $1 fall in price of oil, the country loses $2 billion in revenue. The consequences of this growing amity will certainly drain into a wider diplomatic and security set-up. Consider the case of Syria. A classic example of power-politics and vested interests. After all, the world runs on vested interests. Turkey shares Iran’s concern, the growing US support for Kurds. But also works with the former to back Syrian opposition groups. The case for Russia and KSA is the same. KSA and Iran are arch-rivals as both are supporting opposite sides in the Syrian war. Russia is an ally of Iran in the conflict. But this is not related to the issue at hand. Why drag the debate into this one? This is the beauty and irony of international relations in general and these vested interests in particular. However, a betterment in Syrian situation can be hoped for, given that one of the key players (KSA and Russia) are now bound, if not willing, to collaborate in the wake of economic problems at home. A lot of factors are at play, shaping the present and future. To see the world as a single unit connected by different strings, a nexus, and an entangled web, is the best way to go about it. The future of energy will affect, re-shape and break and make more alliances. There might be shifts in policies, in preferences, in partners. Renewable energy is burgeoning. US shale is expected to continue growing. KSA is planning to wean itself from oil, Saudi Vision 2030 and creation of world’s largest sovereign fund by selling 5 per cent of stake of Aramco (possible by a higher valuation which depends upon higher oil prices) are steps towards that goal. But simultaneously, here, many questions spring up. Will this growing friendship between KSA and Russia continue once it shifts its economy away from oil? But will KSA ever be able to do so? How will, then, this affect the security situation in Syria? If Shale continues to grow, what place will KSA have then? Will it be replaced as a swing producer or it has already been? What, then, about the influence of Iran as the regional power, will the ground be clear for it become one? What if KSA fails in this transitional experiment? Thinking that a single visit or few deals in weapons or oil will change let alone upend the role of US and weaken its influence in Middle East would be childish. KSA has its own national interests. The deals can be considered as the KSA’s way of hedging its bets, trying to not to put all eggs in one basket. The changing regional scenario, energy security and economic legerity behoove them to do so. It is safe to say, however, the ‘crude’ glue between US and KSA is not something to ignore. Further changes in this arrangement might be able to shift the alliances completely. As of now, Russia and KSA are working together and it is best for both to do so. The writer is a student of International Relations with interest in International Political Economy. He can be reached at [email protected] Published in Daily Times, October 19th 2017.