In Moscow and Muscat, geopolitical differences are not standing in the way of potential cooperation in the Persian Gulf region.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, shakes hands with Oman's foreign minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah during a meeting in Moscow on Friday, July 16, 2010. Photo: AP
A lot has been said and written about the divergent stances of Russia and the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf on a wide range of issues. However, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov's recent visit to Oman indicates that there is room for cooperation even between countries whose positions on the Syrian conflict could not be more different.
The absolute Sultanate
Both socially and politically, the Sultanate of Oman is almost identical to other Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf. The Parliament of Oman is more of a ceremonial and consulting body, while all power rests with Qaboos bin Said Al Busadi, the Sultan, who is also the head of the Cabinet of Ministers. The Omani monarch is among the wealthiest national leaders in the world, and that hardly comes as a surprise. 75-year-old Qaboos has been single-handedly ruling his Sultanate for the past 45 years.
Nevertheless, Oman's leadership, just like its Persian Gulf neighbors, prefers to share its profits from the sale of natural resources (oil and gas) with native Arabs. This generous policy results in the average annual income in Oman being $44,000, a modest amount by regional standards.
Still, the Omani economy is rather diversified: apart from the dominant oil and gas segment, the country is successfully developing metallurgy, chemical production, construction, and, lately, tourism.
Naturally, Oman's foreign policy is bound by its obligations towards the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf.
On almost all major regional issues - such as the conflict in Syria, the war in Yemen, and the situation in Palestine - Oman follows the lead of Saudi Arabia and Qatar and simultaneously works to enhance its strategic partnership with the U.S. and the UK.
At the same time, it is hard to argue with Evgeny Satanovskiy, the president of the Institute of the Middle East, who concludes that Oman's conservative foreign policies are generally quite pragmatic.
Satanovskiy may be referring to Oman’s constructive political and economic ties with Iran, friendly relations with Egypt and India (many Egyptians and Indians have been working in Oman for years), and a significant increase in cooperation with the People's Republic of China.
Oman does not have any overt connections with terrorist Islamist groups, which is another manifestation of Qaboos's moderate stance on international issues.
Moscow and Muscat: Geopolitics does not get in the way of cooperation
Naturally, the development of Russia-Oman relations is influenced by current geopolitical differences, including the lack of agreement on the Syrian problem and a number of sensitive issues in the Middle East.
But, nonetheless, based on the results of Lavrov's visit to Muscat in early February, both sides "voiced their mutual satisfaction with the current high level of traditionally friendly Russian-Omani relations."
During bilateral negotiations, Lavrov and his Omani colleague Yusuf bin Alawi confirmed that the resolution of current Middle Eastern conflicts, including the Syrian crisis, is not possible without "an all-inclusive national dialogue on the basis of international law and the provisions of the UN Charter."
Lavrov communicated Moscow's official position, which was explained in the recently revised Russian concept on the provision of collective security in the Persian Gulf. According to the concept, peacekeeping operations in the region can only be performed on the grounds of special UN resolutions.
The concept also points out that, "The security system in the Persian Gulf should be universal and all-inclusive and respect all regional and involved parties' national security interests, including their military, economic, and energy aspects."
During the talks, both Russia and Oman reported a dramatic increase in trade between the two countries: in 2010, bilateral trade amounted to $13 million, but by 2014, the best year on record for Russian-Omani cooperation, transactions topped $100 million.
Not a large amount by modern standards, but there is definitely a positive dynamic. This trend is facilitated by the Russia-Oman Business Council, which is chaired on the Russian side by Ivan Menshikov, the General Director of Rosneftegaz. He points out that Russian companies are interested in intensifying their interaction with the Sultanate's fuel and energy complex.
But that is not all. Various Russian investors are interested in the Omani market, for example, the Pipe Metallurgical Company. The rapid growth of sales in the past several years is predominantly determined by grain supply. Currently, grain is Russia's main export to Oman.
The two countries also have joint transportation and infrastructure projects. Oman is clearly determined to widen cultural and educational exchange and cooperation. It is quite possible that interaction will grow to include the delicate issue of inter-religious dialogue.
Lavrov's visit to the Persian Gulf region shows that Moscow continues to adhere to its strategy of developing pragmatic relations with the Arab nations. Currently, it is premature to pronounce judgment on this strategy, but given the reality of Saudi Arabia's leading position in the modern Arab world, this course of action appears to be justified because it can yield certain political and economic dividends.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.