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Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Saudi Arabia and UAE

It is Mr Putin’s first visit to the region since the coronavirus pandemic.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday before leaving for Saudi Arabia in a one-day lightning tour intended to raise Moscow’s profile as a Middle East power broker, even as his war in Ukraine grinds on.

Mr Putin landed in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the Emirates, a federation of seven sheikhdoms now hosting the United Nations’ Cop28 climate talks.

It marked his first trip to the region since before the coronavirus pandemic and the war – and as he faces an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court over the war in Ukraine.

Neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE has signed the ICC founding treaty, meaning they do not face any obligation to detain Mr Putin over the warrant accusing him of being personally responsible for the abductions of children from Ukraine during his war on the country.

Mr Putin skipped a summit in South Africa over concerns he could be arrested on arrival there.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE’s foreign minister, met a smiling Mr Putin after he descended the stairs of his presidential plane.

Russian President Vladimir Putin with Emirati President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (Sergei Savostyanov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

As he arrived at Abu Dhabi’s Qasr al-Watan palace to meet Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the country’s ruler, the UAE’s military acrobatics team flew in formation with red, white and blue smoke trailing them in the colours of the Russian flag.

“I’m happy to meet you again,” Sheikh Mohammed said as he sat with Mr Putin in the palace.

Soldiers on horseback and with camels lined his arrival route, Russian and Emirati flags also hanging from lampposts.

Four Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets accompanied Mr Putin’s plane on the flight to the Emirates, Russian state-run media reported.

The pageantry in the Emirates, which relies on the US as its major security partner, highlights the UAE’s expansive business ties to Russia that have exploded since grinding Western sanctions targeted Moscow.

After Mr Putin’s arrival in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, he and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shook hands and smiled as they walked to their meeting.

Mr Putin said Russia-Saudi relations have “reached a level they never saw before”. He said that “it’s very important to exchange information and assessments of what’s going on in the region”.

Bin Salman, in his turn, said Russian-Saudi co-operation had helped strengthen security in the Middle East, adding that “our future political interaction and co-operation will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the global situation”.

In the UAE, Ukrainians on hand for the event expressed outrage over Mr Putin being in the country at the same time they described him as committing environmental crimes in their country.

Marharyta Bohdanova, a worker at the Ukrainian pavilion at the Cop28 climate summit, said: “It is extremely upsetting to see how the world treats war criminals, because that’s what he is, in my opinion.

“Seeing how people let people like him in the big events … treating him like a dear guest, is just so hypocritical in my opinion.”

Officials at Russia’s pavilion at the talks declined to speak to The Associated Press.

US climate envoy John Kerry and US agency for international development administrator Samantha Power made a point of touring Ukraine’s pavilion at Cop28 before being scheduled to address a news conference later on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr Putin last visited the UAE in 2019, receiving a warm welcome from Sheikh Mohammed, then the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. In the time since then, however, the world has greatly changed.

The Russian President isolated himself during the coronavirus pandemic. He launched an invasion targeting Ukraine in February 2022, a grinding war that continues today and has been a topic for Ukrainian diplomats at the COP28 talks.

Meanwhile, the Israel-Hamas war remains a major concern for the Middle East, particularly the UAE, which reached a diplomatic recognition with Israel in 2020.

Recent attacks by Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels also threatens commercial shipping in the Red Sea as Iran’s nuclear programme continues its rapid advances since the collapse of the 2016 nuclear deal.

Mr Putin is scheduled to meet Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Thursday for what Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov has described as “a rather lengthy conversation”.

The two countries have been discussing ways to get around the Western sanctions targeting them.

Russia is part of Opec+, which is a group of cartel members and other nations that have managed production to try and boost crude oil prices. Last week, the group expanded some output cuts into next year and brought up-and-coming oil supplier Brazil into the fold.

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