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Putin visits Saudi Arabia, UAE on Middle East tour

By AFP
December 07, 2023

RIYADH: Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday after visiting the United Arab Emirates, making a rare trip abroad as Moscow seeks to reassert itself on the global stage.

It is only the third trip the Russian leader has taken outside the former Soviet Union since he invaded Ukraine, following visits to Iran and China, and comes as Moscow seeks to bolster its influence in the Middle East.

Russia´s President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attending a welcoming ceremony ahead of their talks in Riyadh on December 6, 2023. — AFP
Russia´s President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attending a welcoming ceremony ahead of their talks in Riyadh on December 6, 2023. — AFP

Putin was greeted by a number of Saudi officials after landing in the capital Riyadh, footage from the Kremlin showed. He was set to meet the country´s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, for talks on international politics, the Israel-Hamas war and oil markets, state media reported. The Kremlin emphasised 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 war in Gaza, it added. Since March, Putin has been wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the invasion of Ukraine.

He skipped the BRICS summit in August in South Africa, which recognises the ICC, to avoid causing a “political show”, and missed the G20 summit in India in September. But neither the UAE nor Saudi Arabia have signed the ICC´s founding treaty, meaning they are not obliged to arrest him.

The Russian leader was earlier welcomed with full cavalry escort and motorcade in the UAE, where he met President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. A national air show team drew a Russian flag with coloured fumes in the sky.

“Today, thanks to your posture, our relations have reached unprecedented levels,” Putin told his counterpart at the presidential palace, saying the UAE was “Russia´s main trading partner in the Arab world.”

Bilateral trade hit a record $9 billion last year, according to the Kremlin, and Putin said “a number of projects” were underway in the oil and gas sector. The UAE is currently hosting the COP28 UN climate talks, but the Kremlin did not specify whether Putin attended any related events.

Putin is next set to host Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi for talks in Moscow on Thursday, as the two countries strengthen economic and military ties in the face of Western sanctions.

With Moscow largely adapted to Western sanctions thanks to rebounding oil revenues, and its military fending off a Ukrainian counteroffensive in recent months, analysts say Putin may be sensing reviving fortunes. “Putin has certainly been speaking more confidently now than any time since the war began,” said Nigel Gould-Davies, senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.