OPINION: An abrupt change in relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia at the end of the past week has severely undermined efforts by the Kremlin to build closer ties with regional powers in the Middle East and Asia to be able to withstand pressure from the US and European sanctions.

Since 2014, when sanctions were imposed on Russia over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, authorities in Moscow have courted Saudi rulers, offering various investment opportunities to the kingdom.

These have included participation in Russia's large liquefied natural gas developments in the Arctic and petrochemicals projects, manufacturing of downhole equipment and other activities in the country.

In 2016, Russia also backed Saudi Arabia, agreeing to participate in the first round of Opec cuts to remove the oil glut from the global energy market.

Russian President Vladimir Putin flew to the Saudi capital, Riyadh for a state visit last October to witness the signing of almost 30 memoranda of understanding and accords worth an estimated $2 billion among companies from the two countries.

The Kremlin has made no secret of its desire to have closer economic and political ties with Saudi Arabia, China, Turkey and countries in Africa and Asia in a bid to grow Russia's importance in global affairs in the face of US dominance.

However, the Kremlin’s ambitions have turned out to be a hostage to power plays in Moscow and Putin's changes of tack.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak is widely believed to have come to last week’s Opec meeting in Vienna, Austria with a pre-determined decision not to support any more output cuts.

The position was apparently approved by Putin earlier in March at a meeting with top executives of Russia's leading oil producers, reports in Moscow media have suggested.

Rosneft chairman Igor Sechin reportedly played a lead role at that meeting, telling participants that an oil price drop would hurt high-cost shale oil producers in the US and undermine the growth of US oil production.

Sechin has aired this argument before, but it was previously ignored in favour of keeping a steady flow of oil taxes to the state budget.

However, Putin has, it would appear, opted to listen to Sechin this time, as the president was irritated by the halt in construction of the Gazprom-led subsea gas export pipeline, Nord Stream 2, in January after a fresh round of US sanctions.

Putin is thought to have a hand in the running of Gazprom, which is led by chief executive Alexei Miller.

In February, sudden changes in Kremlin policy put Moscow on the brink of military confrontation with Turkey over Syria, marring apparently warm and cordial relations between Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Meanwhile, earlier Russian efforts to use natural gas as a tool to influence political events in Ukraine have damaged its own image as a reliable energy supplier, with European nations fostering the growth of alternative gas supply routes and options.

As Putin works hard to remain in power after the expiry of his fourth presidential term in 2024, Russia's behaviour on the global stage is likely to remain inconsistent even volatile.

(This is an Upstream opinion article.)