Putin’s quick visits to Abu Dhabi, Riyadh - GulfToday

Putin’s quick visits to Abu Dhabi, Riyadh


Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin flew into Abu Dhabi accompanied by four Russian fighter jets on Wednesday. He was welcomed by UAE’s President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan at the Presidential Palace with a 21-gun salute and a flypast by military jets trailing smoke in colours of the Russian flag. And later he flew to Saudi Arabia, met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al-Saud, before he returned to Moscow.

This was the first time that Putin flew out since the beginning of the war in Ukraine in February, 2022. He had visited Teheran in July, 2022 when he met Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and he received Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Moscow on Thursday. The Russian president did not attend the G20 summits in Bali in 2022 and in New Delhi in 2023.

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant against Putin on charges of deporting Ukraine’s children. Neither the UAE nor Saudi Arabia are signatories to the founding treaty of ICC. Putin’s flying visit is in a way Putin making the point that neither he nor Russia can be isolated internationally. Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia are close friends of the United States as well. Sheikh Mohamed had addressed him as ‘dear friend’ and said, “I am happy to meet you again. And a statement issued by the President’s office said the two leaders discussed “the importance of strengthening dialogue and cooperation to ensure stability and progress.”

Putin told the UAE President: “Our relations, largely due to your position, have reached an unprecedentedly high level. The UAE is Russia’s main trading partner in the Arab world.” Russian news agency TASS said the two leaders discussed bilateral cooperation in the oil industry and advanced technologies.

The interpretation being offered about Putin’s visit to the UAE and Saudi Arabia is that Russia is staking its claim as an influential player in the region. As a matter of fact, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have remained close to Russia ever since the beginning of the war in Ukraine and they have mediated prisoner swap between the two countries. The UAE had also mediated the prisoner swap between the United States and Russia when American basketball player Brittney Griner was freed for arms merchant Viktor Bout in Abu Dhabi airport last December.

There is a change in the positioning of the outside powers and the Gulf Arab states, especially the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The US and Russia did play an influential role in the region in the past, but now as Russia-US relations turn tense and they have even reached a breaking point, it is the UAE and Saudi Arabia which have become important interlocutors between the former Cold War rivals. Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been playing a mediatory role between Russia and Ukraine with the help of the United Nations in getting the export of grains from Ukraine started last year, and he is trying to extend the agreement that had ended in March this year.

With Europe in decline both politically and economically, the importance of emerging market economies like the UAE and Saudi Arabia becomes evident. The fact that the UAE is hosting the crucial COP28 climate summit in Dubai is another proof that international players outside of the West are taking upon themselves the responsibility of holding the balance in global politics. Putin’s visit to the UAE and Saudi Arabia is proof of the fact power equations have changed. Russia trusts the two Arab states even as most of Europe stands against Russia, and the US has revived the ideological opposition between America and Europe on one side, and Russia and China on the other.

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