Russia seeks to boost ties with Saudi Arabia amid Syria tensions
MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet Saudi Arabia's defence minister this week in a meeting aimed at boosting bilateral ties after years of tensions over Syria, his aide said Wednesday.
Putin will meet Prince Mohammed bin Salman, believed to be a favoured son of King Salman, on Thursday on the sidelines of the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum, the Kremlin's top foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov said.
Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed, aged 29 according to the website of the Saudi embassy in the US, was elevated to the post of defence minister the day Salman acceded to the throne in January.
Ushakov said Putin and the Saudi prince would discuss a range of international issues including the Syria crisis and the fight against Islamic State radicals as well as ramping up economic ties.
"Undoubtedly the (meeting) is very important and speaks of the interest of both sides -- Russian and Saudi -- in ramping up ties to a wholly new level," Ushakov said.
He said he was not aware if Russia and Saudi Arabia -- a traditional ally of the United States -- would discuss oil prices.
The two countries are set to ink a number of agreements on the forum's sidelines, the Kremlin said.
The Saudi prince will be one of the few guests of honour at the Saint Petersburg forum amid Russia's confrontation with the West, which has slapped sanctions against Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.
Prince Mohammed visited a major exhibition of military hardware which opened outside Moscow on Tuesday.
"I am interested in all kinds of telecommunications -- land-based, satellite and encryption for data transmission," he was quoted as saying by Voentelecom, one of the firms taking part in the exhibition, on Wednesday.
Relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia have been strained in recent years over Moscow's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Riyadh opposes.
More than 230,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict, which began with anti-government demonstrations in March 2011 and descended into a civil war after a regime crackdown.