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Dec 7, 2023, 5:17pm EST
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Putin meets with Middle East leaders in bid to shore up support

Abdulla Al Bedwawi /UAE Presidential Court/Handout
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Russian President Vladimir Putin received a warm welcome on a visit to the Middle East this week, where he met with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other regional leaders.

The meetings, covered extensively on Russian state television, were aimed at shoring up relations between Moscow and the Middle East rulers — all of whom have remained neutral in their view of the Ukraine war — amid Western isolation.

Putin arrived in the United Arab Emirates flanked by four Russian fighter jets to meet with President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who greeted him as a “dear friend”. The Russian leader said relations had reached “an unprecedentedly high level,” with the UAE now Moscow’s top trade partner in the Arab world.

As part of the lightning diplomacy round, Putin also hosted Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Moscow Thursday. Iran’s leader used the talks to accuse the West of supporting “genocide” by Israel in Gaza.

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Bilateral trade between Russia and the UAE soared by almost 68% in 2022, the Wall Street Journal reports, with the countries’ rising industrial cooperation including several oil and gas projects. Tourism is also thriving, with Putin saying that almost a million Russian tourists visited the UAE last year. Analysts told the Journal that Putin’s emphasis on prosperous trade ties is designed to signal to the West that Russia can prevail in the face of crippling sanctions.

Putin’s meetings with the UAE and Saudi Arabia two of the U.S.’s closest allies in the Middle East are seen as an “embarrassment” to the Biden administration. Observers told Business Insider Putin wants to use the visit to “drive a wedge” between the U.S. and its Arab partners and expose “the limits of U.S. power”. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are treading a fine line, however, an analyst from the Eurasia Group told the publication. Given the importance of their ties with Washington, Arab states “will maintain opportunistic relations with Russia, but will be careful that their economic ties with Moscow don’t cross U.S. sanctions,” the analyst said.

Putin’s trip to the Gulf is only his third overseas visit since Russia invaded Ukraine. The Russian leader was greeted in the region with “jets, horses, camels and flags,” Sky News reported — despite being subject to an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court over the illegal abduction of children from Ukraine. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have not signed the ICC’s founding treaty and have no obligation to detain Putin over the warrant. The Russian leader’s arrival in the UAE also coincided with the COP28 climate summit currently being held in Dubai. Ukrainians at the conference responded to his presence in the region with “fury,” according to Sky.

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