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S.-Russian rivalry, a move that poses strategic questions for Washington.

Saudi Arabia is one of the United States’ closest allies in the Arab world, and it has traditionally been aligned against Russia, dating back to Saudi Arabia’s support for anti-Soviet mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman arrived in Moscow on Wednesday in the first-ever official visit by a Saudi monarch to Russia, in a mission that signals an expanding Russian role in the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East as the Syrian civil war approaches an endgame.

The king’s visit to Moscow would have been unthinkable just two years ago, when Russia intervened in the Syrian conflict on the side of President Bashar Assad.

Russian airpower helped turn the tide of the war, supporting Assad’s troops as they moved to crush an armed insurrection that raged since 2011.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states sided with the opposition, and those governments are now grappling with the reality that Assad will not be ousted.

The armed rebellion against Assad is now confined to isolated enclaves in Syria’s northwest, southwest, and the outskirts of Damascus.

The United States and the United Kingdom also recently ended clandestine programs that had provided aid to the rebels.

Putin has shown a striking ability to transcend traditional dividing lines in the region, also cultivating ties with Israel, Palestinian factions, and Egypt.

“For the Russians it’s definitely continuing to project the image of a great power in the Middle East,” says Yury Barmin, an expert on Russian relations in the Middle East, speaking from Moscow.

“They’re looking to create new contexts, to create new partnerships where they could be seen as an influential actor,” he added.

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