Putin arrives in Saudi Arabia for ‘rare’ foreign trip | World News

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Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Saudi Arabia for a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, part of a rare foreign trip to strengthen partnerships in the Gulf that also defies US and European efforts to isolate him on the global stage.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is greeted upon arrival at the airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia December 6, 2023. (via REUTERS)
Russian President Vladimir Putin is greeted upon arrival at the airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia December 6, 2023. (via REUTERS)

“We have stable and very good relations in terms of political interaction, economics, and in the humanitarian sector,” Putin said in broadcast remarks of the two leaders’ meeting. “It is very important for us to exchange information and assessments about what is happening in the region,” he said.

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Putin arrived in Riyadh from Abu Dhabi, where his two-nation tour began earlier on Wednesday. He held talks there with United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, during which both leaders touted the relationship between their countries and expanding economic ties.

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Putin’s visit to the energy-rich region — his first since invading Ukraine almost two years ago — shows he’s still welcome in parts of the globe, even as the US and Europe seek to punish the Kremlin with sanctions and arms to Kyiv. His talks in Saudi Arabia will focus on bolstering the partnership between the oil giants, and comes after OPEC , the alliance between the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and other major oil producers, agreed last week to extend and deepen production cuts to bolster prices.

While the alliance’s talks were marred by delays due to an internal disagreement between Saudi Arabia and Angola and Nigeria, officials from Moscow and Riyadh projected an image of close cooperation and mutual trust during the process.

Saudi Arabia has faith that Moscow will implement its share of the output cuts, Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said in an interview with Bloomberg TV, even though traders have noted Russia’s contribution comes from export curbs, not an outright reduction in production.

Welcome Party

Putin’s plane was escorted by four Su-35 fighter jets on its flight to the UAE. Russia received special permission for the flight from the countries whose airspace they crossed, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the Russian state-run Tass news service. UAE Air Force jets escorted the plane as Putin entered the country’s airspace, state newswire WAM reported.

Upon arrival in Abu Dhabi, he was greeted by senior UAE officials and treated to a flyover by the “Emirates Knights” national air show team, leaving vapor trails in the colors of the Russian flag behind them. Artillery fired 21 rounds to welcome the Russian leader, according to WAM. Putin in turn praised the UAE’s decision to join the BRICS group of emerging economies.

The UAE has faced increased pressure from the US and its allies to close channels used by Moscow to skirt trade sanctions and curb ties with Russia.

Still, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE stand to gain from the visit as well, according to Alexander Baunov, a senior fellow at the Berlin-based Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center. “In exchange for de-isolation Putin can offer Saudi Arabia and UAE more prestige in global politics, seats at BRICS club, and diversification of their foreign affairs,” he said. “This is mutually beneficial.”

Aside from oil, investment, trade and Israel’s offensive on Hamas were on the agenda for the leaders. The fighting in Gaza has created a wedge between the US, which supports Israel, and Arab nations including Saudi Arabia due to the thousands of Palestinian deaths and the deepening humanitarian crisis. Moscow has backed Riyadh in its push for an immediate cease-fire and the eventual creation of a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish one.

Middle East Engagement

On Thursday, Putin will host Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, whose country backs Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organization by the US and European Union.

Russia considers many countries in the Middle East to be friendly in contrast to the European Union, UK and US. Russian business, including commodities firms from oil to aluminum and fertilizers, have been moving their operations to the UAE from the West since the start of the war in Ukraine.

“Putin is trying to show that he is able to break through isolation and is welcome in capitals that are friendly to the West,” Baunov said. “It is important to talk directly to leaders of the UAE and Saudi Arabia so they will be less inclined to submit to US pressure to join an anti-Russian block.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who is traveling with Putin, will remain in the region this week, attending forums in Abu Dhabi then Doha, Qatar, Tass reported.

Putin has limited his trips mainly to close allies since he ordered troops into Ukraine, triggering a raft of international sanctions, including on its crude exports. The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against him in March for alleged war crimes, further complicating travel outside his country. Neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE have signed onto the ICC.

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