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Saudi Arabia set to support Russia’s role in Opec+ despite looming sanctions

Politics should be kept out of Opec+, says Saudi energy minister, as kingdom plans to continue partnership with Russia in face of western pressure on Moscow
Alexander Novak, who was then Russia's energy minister, speaks to the press upon his arrival for the one-day meeting OPEC+ group meeting in the Saudi city of Jeddah on 19 May 2019 (AFP/File photo)

Saudi Arabia plans to continue its Opec+ partnership with Russia despite western pressure on Moscow and a potential EU ban on Russian oil imports.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the energy minister, told the Financial Times that Riyadh was hoping "to work out an agreement with Opec+ . . . which includes Russia", insisting that the "world should appreciate the value" of the alliance of producers, the newspaper reported

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Opec+ is a group of 24 oil-producing nations, made up of the 14 Opec members and 10 non-Opec nations, including Russia. It was created in 2017 in an effort to better coordinate oil production and stabilise global prices.

Relations between the US and Saudi Arabia have been strained since Biden took office, with the country's de-facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, facing criticism over the killing of Middle East Eye columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Additionally, both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have expressed concerns over Washington's attempts to revive the Iran nuclear deal.

Prince Abdulaziz’s comments send a message to the US and its Nato allies that it does not plan to participate in western attempts to isolate Moscow or its oil exports.

Meanwhile, energy consumers are struggling with skyrocketing oil prices

'If the demand is there'

Saudi Arabia has been resisting pressure to raise crude output in order to help bring down prices in the wake of Russia’s 24 February invasion of Ukraine, as it insists that current supplies are sufficient. 

Still, a new Opec+ deal is to be expected to be broked soon, as output quotas put in place two years ago are set to expire in three months.

Prince Abdulaziz told the FT that he could not predict what the new Opec+ agreement might look like, given the uncertainties in the market, but was confident that the group would increase production "if the demand is there".

'This situation needs people to sit together... take out the masquerade... and find remedies'

- Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Saudi energy minister

"With the havoc you see now it’s too premature to try to pinpoint [an agreement]," he said. "But what we know is that what we have succeeded to deliver is sufficient for people to say 'so far there is merit, there is a value of being there, working together'."

According to the 2020 Opec+ agreement, alliance members raised total production each month by the modest amount of 430,000 barrels a day. But Russia's output dropped by about about one million barrels per day (b/d) between March and April, and the International Energy Agency predicts that it could fall further, declining by as much as 3mn b/d if western powers do end up imposing tougher sanctions on Russia.

Meanwhile, Prince Abdulaziz said politics should be kept out of Opec+.

"This situation needs people to sit together, focus, take out the masquerade and the so-called political correctness . . . it’s about trying to relate to existing reality and find remedies to it," he said. 

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