ABU DHABI: President Vladimir Putin is in the United Arab Emirates for a rare visit outside the former Soviet Union Wednesday, as Russia seeks to reassert itself on the global stage.
Isolated by the West over the Ukraine war, Putin is courting allies in the Middle East, where he will discuss oil, trade and the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Putin was greeted on the runway by UAE officials, Russian television showed, before heading to the presidential palace under cavalry escort.
“Today, thanks to your posture, our relations have reached unprecedented levels,” Putin told UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on his arrival, praising high trade between the countries.
Later today Putin is scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia to meet with the kingdom’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
This is only the Russian leader’s third trip outside the former Soviet Union since he invaded Ukraine, after visits to Iran and China.
Putin has since March been wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) that has accused him of deporting Ukrainian children.
He skipped the BRICS summit in South Africa in August to avoid causing a “political show” and missed the in-person flagship G20 summit in September.
But neither the UAE nor Saudi Arabia have signed the ICC’s founding treaty, which means they would not have to arrest him.
Sensing reviving fortunes
“Putin has certainly been speaking more confidently now than any time since the war began,” said Nigel Gould-Davies, senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Russia’s defensive lines largely held against a counteroffensive that Ukraine launched with billions of dollars worth of arms from the West, where aid to Ukraine is under debate.
And Moscow has learned to adapt to Western sanctions, with oil revenue rebounding.
Trade and oil will be on the agenda in the UAE, which a Kremlin statement said is “Russia’s main economic partner in the Arab world”.
Bilateral trade between the two countries reached a record $9 billion in 2022, the Kremlin said.
Talks will also focus on cooperation in the energy sector, after Russia – one of 10 OPEC partners – said it would deepen voluntary supply cuts.
“Promising projects are being developed in virtually all major sectors,” the Kremlin said.
The United Arab Emirates is hosting the COP28 UN climate talks, but the Kremlin did not specify whether Putin would attend any related events.
After hosting Putin, the UAE will welcome Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday and Saturday.
Moscow is pressing its diplomatic push among energy-rich and influential Middle East countries, including with Saudi Arabia.
Putin is expected later Wednesday to travel to the Gulf kingdom for talks with Mohammed bin Salman on a range of issues including trade and oil.
Cooperation between Russia and Saudi Arabia is “a reliable guarantee of maintaining a stable and predictable situation on the global oil market,” the Kremlin said ahead of the meeting.
The leaders will also discuss international politics, including the war between Israel and Hamas.
The Kremlin praised the “great importance of maintaining dialogue with the Kingdom to preserve peace and security in the Middle East and North Africa.”
The two leaders will “consider ways to promote de-escalation” in the conflict, the Kremlin said.
Upon his return to Moscow, Putin will host Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi for talks on Thursday, the Kremlin has said, as the two countries strengthen economic and military ties in the face of Western sanctions.