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Russia-Saudi Relations: The Kingdom and the Bear

Monday, Nov. 9, 2009

Saudi Arabia's possible purchase of at least $2 billion of Russian military equipment has the potential to be the most significant Russian arms deal in the Middle East since the Soviet Union transferred SA-2s to Nasser's Egypt. By all indications, it seems that the two countries have reached an agreement for the arms transfer, after a two-year negotiation period. The deal may be part of a larger process that leads to a significant realignment in the external relations of both parties.

The arms transfer agreement, which covers a broad spectrum of weapons, is guided by the agreement on cooperation in military technology that was initiated during a visit of Russia's then-President Vladimir Putin to Riyadh in 2007, and later signed by the two countries in 2008. According to Russian sources, Saudi Arabia may purchase up to 150 helicopters (30 Mi-35 attack helicopters and 120 Mi-17 transport helicopters), more than 150 T-90S tanks, around 250 BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), and "several dozen" air defense systems (including possibly the S-400 Triumf). Contracts for the sales of the helicopters, tanks and IFVs -- worth a combined $2 billion -- seem imminent, with more negotiations required on the air defense systems. In all, the Saudi market may absorb up to $7 billion worth of Russian equipment in the future. ...

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