Wednesday, December 06, 2023
Russian President Vladimir Putin, after wrapping up a rare foreign trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), landed in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to hold hurriedly set up high-stakes talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) focusing on oil, Gaza, and Ukraine.
In Abu Dhabi, President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan warmly welcomed President Putin, hailing him as a "dear friend," with UAE jets performing a fly-past adorned in the colours of Russia's flag.
Expressing the strength of their ties, Putin remarked, "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."
Putin highlighted the collaboration between Russia and the UAE within OPEC+, a coalition responsible for over 40% of global oil production. He mentioned that their discussions would encompass the Israeli-Hamas conflict and the situation in Ukraine.
In an unexpected move, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has seldom left Russia since the onset of the Ukraine conflict, is set to engage in a face-to-face meeting with the crown prince of the world's largest crude oil exporter, widely known as MBS.
The purpose of the meeting remains unclear, with questions arising about what specific topics Putin intends to discuss concerning oil or geopolitics.
Putin's journey began with the Russian defence ministry showcasing his Ilyushin-96 aircraft flanked by Sukhoi-35S fighter jets during the flight from Russia to the United Arab Emirates, the initial stop on his itinerary.
Following the UAE visit, Putin proceeded to Saudi Arabia for his first in-person meeting with MBS since October 2019, marking his first visit to the region since July 2022, when he met Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The timing of the meeting with MBS, occurring just days after the postponement of a crucial OPEC+ meeting, appears hastily arranged. A source informed Reuters beforehand that MbS had plans to visit Moscow, contributing to the intrigue surrounding the diplomatic engagement.
The Russian delegation accompanying Putin comprises high-ranking officials from various sectors, including oil, economy, foreign affairs, space, and nuclear energy.
The discussions are expected to cover a range of topics, including oil, the Israel-Hamas conflict, the situations in Syria and Yemen, and issues related to ensuring stability in the Gulf. An aide mentioned that the Ukraine crisis would also be on the agenda.
Notably, Putin and MBS, who jointly control a significant portion of daily oil production, have maintained close relations despite occasional Western ostracism.
This was evident at a G20 summit in 2018, just two months after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate, when Putin and MBS exchanged high-fives and handshakes.
MBS, at 38, has aimed to assert Saudi Arabia as a regional power with diminished reliance on the United States, its major weapons supplier.
Meanwhile, Putin, 71, asserts that Russia is engaged in an existential battle with the West and has sought alliances across the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and Asia amid Western attempts to isolate Moscow.
His discussions with the UAE president are expected to cover the conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine, alongside talks on oil production. Despite the ongoing COP28 UN climate summit in the UAE, it remains unclear if Putin will attend.
This journey marks a departure from Putin's limited international travels since March, prompted by an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant accusing him of war crimes related to the deportation of Ukrainian children. Notably, the UAE and Saudi Arabia do not recognise the ICC's jurisdiction.
In meetings with UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Putin highlighted the unprecedented levels of their bilateral relations. The discussions in the UAE will prioritise trade and oil, emphasising the nation's significance as "Russia's main economic partner in the Arab world."
Additionally, conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and Sudan have been on the agenda during visits to both the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Russian presidential assistant Yuri Ushakov confirmed that Putin would also meet Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi on Thursday to discuss the war in Gaza. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Putin has limited his foreign visits to Russian-occupied Ukraine, Iran, and China.