According to Russian state media, Vladimir Putin has arrived in Abu Dhabi in preparation for “working visits” later in the day in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Putin rarely stops in the UAE before his journey to Saudi Arabia. His first visits to the Middle East have been since February 2022, when the conflict in Ukraine commenced.
Both nations are significant trading partners of Russia and have maintained a neutral stance in the Ukraine conflict, declining to implement sanctions led by the West against Russia in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine. The limited number of trips undertaken by Putin beyond Russian territory in recent months emphasizes the significance of the oil-rich Gulf Arab states in the Middle East and East Coast for the Kremlin’s foreign policy.
Putin “is expected to review the current state of multifaceted bilateral cooperation and the prospects for further expansion of ties, as well as current international issues, with an emphasis on the situation in the Middle East,” according to a Kremlin readout. During their meeting in Abu Dhabi, Putin will meet with UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
According to the communiqué, the Russian leader will subsequently convene a meeting in Riyadh with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to “exchange perspectives on the regional and international agenda” and “discuss bilateral cooperation in the domains of trade, economy, and investment.”
Following the visits, Vladimir Putin will invite Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to Moscow on Thursday. The significance of the Kremlin’s alliance with Iran has increased substantially due to Tehran’s emergence as a vital trade partner and provider of the weaponry utilized by Russia in Ukraine.
There is no concern regarding ICC arrest warrants in the UAE or Saudi Arabia.
An especially noteworthy topic of conversation between Putin and the leaders of the Middle East is energy, especially in light of the OPEC+ meeting that took place last week. At that gathering, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and other members of the oil producers’ alliance reached a voluntary agreement to reduce output for the initial quarter of 2024.
At least in terms of commerce, Abu Dhabi and Moscow have grown closer since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine: according to the Russian state news agency Tass, aggregate trade between Russia and the UAE increased by nearly 68% year-over-year to $9 billion in 2022. Exports from Russia to the UAE accounted for $8.5 million.
According to Middle East Briefing, in February 2023, Russian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sergey Kozlov made a commitment to increase annual bilateral trade between Russia and Saudi Arabia to $5 billion. This amount decreased to $1.75 billion in 2022, but according to Russian economic analysts, trade in sectors such as agriculture, fertilizer, and energy commodities has increased substantially.
As a result of an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for Putin on charges of war crimes, his travel abroad has been severely restricted. Significantly, the absence of ratification of the ICC statute by Saudi Arabia and the UAE renders them exempt from the legal obligation to apprehend the Russian leader within their borders.