Russia offers to build Saudi Arabia’s $100bn nuclear industry

As the Syrian war grinds on Russia has stepped up diplomatic overtures to Saudi Arabia by offering to build all 16 reactors in the kingdom’s intended nuclear programme over the next 20 years.

Yury Ushakov, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, made the offer last week (30 August) ahead of a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s young, reformist second deputy prime minister, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al Saud, on the sidelines of the G20 summit in China, Russian state news agency Sputnik reported.

Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy company, was ready to help with the ambitious construction programme, which has been costed at $100bn, said Ushakov.

"Our company, which has the most advanced technologies, is ready to join the project to construct 16 nuclear power reactors in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia," he said.

The story has been circulating in Gulf media outlets this week.

Russia and Saudi Arabia have had cool relations in the past and are presently on opposite sides in the Syrian civil war, which raises doubts about the idea of Russia taking the lead on the kingdom’s civil nuclear programme.

However, three months before Russia joined the Syrian civil war on the side of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in September 2015, Rosatom and the Saudi government pledged to work together on civil nuclear development.

The Saudis had earlier signed a similar agreement with South Korea that envisaged the building of two or more 330MW modular reactors.

At the G20 summit in Hangzhou President Putin met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al Saud, the chairman of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs and the man credited with bringing forward a raft of policies intended to modernise the Saudi economy.

Ahead of the summit, Putin described bin Salman, in an interview with Bloomberg, as a "very reliable partner with whom you can reach agreements, and can be certain that those agreements will be honoured".

The two men also discussed the possibility of freezing oil production at its present level. Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil producer and Russia is the third. The low oil price is putting pressure on the finances of both countries.

Image: Putin met bin Salman during the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2015 (Kremlin)

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