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Putin meets leaders of UAE and Saudi Arabia in rare foreign trip

In whirlwind visit to the Gulf, Russian president discussed Israel's war on Gaza, and conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Sudan
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh on 6 December 2023 (AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin met the leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, during his first visit to the Gulf region in several years.

Putin met UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi where the duo discussed, among other things, energy cooperation and advanced technologies, Russia's state-owned Tass news agency reported.

Ahead of the meeting, the Kremlin reported that the two leaders would "consider ways to promote de-escalation" amid Israel's war on Gaza, and that the conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Sudan would also be discussed.

Upon his arrival in Abu Dhabi, Putin was greeted at Abu Dhabi's Qasr al-Watan palace with a 21-gun salute and a flyby of UAE military jets trailing smoke in the colors of the Russian flag.

"The warm welcome President Putin receives in Abu Dhabi on December 6 during his working visit to the UAE cannot but emphasize the level of Russia's 'global isolation'," the Russian Mission in Geneva said in a defiant post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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Putin then jetted off to Riyadh, where he met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in their first face-to-face meeting since October 2019.

The Saudi broadcaster Al Arabiya reported that the crown prince and Putin discussed ways of "working together to achieve stability in the Middle East," and mentioned their close relations in areas including energy, trade and investment.

"Nothing can prevent the development of our friendly relations," Putin told Mohammed bin Salman, according to Saudi state media. 

Russian government spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, later told reporters that Putin and the crown prince discussed Opec+ cooperation.

However, it was not immediately clear what Putin intended to raise specifically about the oil cartel with the crown prince.

Putin enjoys warm relations with both

Putin enjoys warm relations with both of the oil-exporting Gulf states, which have remained neutral over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Despite western pressure, Emirati officials have indicated plans to deepen economic ties with Moscow, with UAE Trade Minister Thani bin Ahmed Al-Zeyoudi pledging last December to push commerical relations "to even greater heights".

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The UAE reported non-oil trade with Russia growing by 57 percent in the first nine months of 2022 – breaking all records.

The UAE's gold industry, a lucrative sector of the economy that has also helped expand Emirati geopolitical clout as far as war-ravaged Sudan, has also enjoyed an uptick in business thanks to trade with Russia.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia's decision to restrict oil supplies has also been described by analysts as a win for Putin, who needs strong oil prices to support his war in Ukraine. 

Wednesday's trip to the Gulf is rare for the Russian president, who faces an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC) that accuses him of being personally responsible for the abductions of children from Ukraine during his war on the country.

Neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE has signed the ICC founding treaty, meaning they have no obligation to detain Putin over the warrant.

On Thursday, Putin will host the Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Moscow. Following that, the UAE will welcome Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday and Saturday.

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