Memorandums of understanding are precious tools of diplomacy because they’re flexible.
Their promises to explore cooperation in this or that enterprise might or might never be acted upon.
At the signing of MOUs, signatories can smile, shake hands, and act like great friends, even if they are not.
Russian President Vladimir Putin left a spray of MOUs and comparably flexible agreements in his wake after state visits to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates Oct. 14-15.
He clearly wanted to bolster relationships with important countries after US disengagement from the Middle
East took another step with President Donald Trump’s order to withdraw military troops from northern Syria.
As discussed here last week, Putin took quick advantage.
Before leaving Moscow, he even edged away from Iran to appease two countries fearing Iranian hegemony.
“Russia will never be friends with one country against another,” he said, according to Interfax. “We build bilateral relations that rely on positive trends generated by our contacts.”
He and his attendants signed agreements to explore Saudi and Emirati collaboration in sundry areas, many involving energy.
A solid deal was Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.’s farmout to Lukoil of 5% of the Ghasha Concession, where a nine-field shallow-water development is in progress. The Russian company never has worked in the UAE.
In a separate, more open-ended agreement with the Russian Energy Agency, ADNOC raised the possibility of more participation by Russian companies in exploration and production.
In Saudi Arabia, Aramco signed nine MOUs with Russian companies, including one with Gazprom Neft for the exchange of technical knowledge and possible joint studies.
Perhaps most important to Putin was mention by Aramco’s press release of an “evolving strategic relationship with Russian companies.”
Subtlety matters in diplomacy.
Concern apparently arose in Moscow, for example, over performances of the Russian national anthem in both countries Putin visited.
“It’s a serious exaggeration to say it was played poorly,” soothed Dmitry Peskov, presidential press secretary. “Of course, it’s not the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra.”