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Novak, Falih target stronger ties ahead of Putin visit to Saudi Arabia

London — Russia aims to strengthen ties with fellow top oil producer Saudi Arabia with a visit by President Vladimir Putin to the Kingdom this autumn, Russian energy minister Alexander Novak said Friday at talks with counterpart Khalid Al-Falih in Moscow.

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Novak met with Falih alongside the heads of several Russian companies involved in cooperation with Saudi Arabia, the Russian energy ministry said.

It comes a month after OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers, the latter led by Russia, agreed to extend production cuts to the end of thefirst quarter 2020, following a pact spearheaded by Russia and Saudi Arabia in late-2016.

Novak said a "key moment" in the intensifying Russian-Saudi relationship had been a visit by Saudi Arabia's King Salman to Moscow inOctober 2017. "Consequently, by order of our leaders, we consider it necessary to continue our cooperation," Novak said, in comments published on the ministry's website. "We are determined to strengthen bilateral cooperation and the development of trade."

"Our task is to carry out preparatory work, synchronize our watches on key areas of Russian-Saudi cooperation, and also prepare documents for signing during the visit," he added.

The two countries have played a crucial role in the production cuts that first came officially into force in 2017, both on a diplomatic level and in terms of implementation, although Russia's compliance has at times been patchy.

The latest extension of production cuts, agreed in Vienna at the start of July, received a lukewarm response from oil markets, reflecting ongoing worries about global oil demand. Front-month Brent futures prices have mostly stuck below $65/b since the start of June.

Falih has become a frequent visitor to Russia as the new alliance has emerged, to some extent overshadowing the historical relationship between Moscow and Saudi Arabia's arch-rival Iran.

Saudi Aramco is among the contenders to join Russia's Arctic LNG-2 project, which follows on from the flagship Yamal LNG project on Russia's far northern coast, though a final decision has yet to be announced.

-- Nick Coleman, nick.coleman@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Jonathan Dart, jonathan.dart@spglobal.com