Russian President Vladimir Putin said before his first visit to Saudi Arabia in more than a decade that Moscow could play a key role in easing regional tensions given its good ties with Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab states and Shi’ite Iran, Reuters reports.
Putin also told Arab broadcasters in an interview aired on Sunday he had no reliable information about who was behind last month’s attack on Saudi oil facilities.
Yemen’s Houthi movement responsibility for the Sept. 14 attacks, but Riyadh and Washington blamed Tehran.
Tehran denied responsibility for the drone and missile strikes that rattled global oil markets and exposed major gaps in Saudi air defences, prompting the United States to send around 3,000 more troops to the kingdom.
“It is wrong to determine who is guilty before it is known reliably and clearly who is behind this act,” Putin said, adding that he had agreed to help investigate the attack.
“Imagine, we don’t know. The next day, I asked the head of the foreign intelligence service and the defence minister. ‘No, we don’t know.'” he said according to an Arabic-language transcript provided by Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television.
The Russian president is due to arrive in Saudi Arabia on Monday and then heads to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday.
Tensions in the Gulf region have risen to new highs since May 2018, when the Trump administration withdrew from a 2015 international nuclear accord with Tehran that put limits on its nuclear programme in exchange for the easing of sanctions.
As Trump reinstated US sanctions, increasing pressure on Iran’s economy, there have been a series of attacks in Saudi Arabia and in Gulf waters that Washington and close allies have blamed on Iran, which denies responsibility.
Putin said such attacks only strengthened cooperation between oil producers inside and outside OPEC, an alliance known as OPEC+, and that Russia would work with its partners to reduce attempts to destabilise markets.
He said he had “very friendly personal relations” with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto Saudi ruler who has won praise for plans to wean the economy off oil and open up society but faced an international outcry over a devastating war in Yemen and human rights abuses, including last year’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.