Russian President Vladimir Putin is visiting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, hoping to secure support in the Middle East for the two major US-allied oil producers as Russia continues its war on Ukraine.
The Russian president arrived on Wednesday in the capital of the Emirates, Abu Dhabi, where the COP28 climate conference of the United Nations is being held. It is the first time he has visited the region since before the coronavirus pandemic and the war, and since his arrest warrant was issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Neither Saudi Arabia nor the United Arab Emirates have signed the treaty establishing the ICC, meaning they have no obligation to detain President Putin over the arrest warrant accusing him of being personally responsible for the kidnappings. of children from Ukraine during the war.
Mr Putin skipped a high-level meeting in South Africa over concerns he could be arrested when he arrives there. In the United Arab Emirates, he was received at the airport by Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
“I am happy to meet you again,” the country’s head of state Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan told President Putin as he received him at Abu Dhabi’s Qasr al-Watan palace.
Four Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets accompanied President Putin’s plane on its flight to the Emirates, Russian state media reported.
The lavish reception extended to the Russian president by the Emirates, a country that relies on the US as its main security partner, highlights the UAE’s close business ties with Russia, which have intensified following Western sanctions against Moscow.
Ukrainians attending the climate conference expressed outrage that President Putin was visiting the country at the same time they are accusing him of crimes against the environment in their country.
“It’s extremely disturbing to see how the world treats war criminals, because that’s what he is in my opinion,” said Marharyta Bohdanova, a participant in the Ukrainian pavilion at COP28, wiping away tears.
“Treating him as a dear friend is just hypocrisy in my opinion,” she said.
US climate envoy John Kerry and US Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power toured Ukraine’s pavilion at COP28 before a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.
President Putin last visited the UAE in 2019. But the world has changed a lot since then, including the experience with the coronavirus pandemic and the aggression against Ukraine that began in February 2022.
Meanwhile, the Israel-Hamas war remains a major concern for the Middle East, especially the United Arab Emirates, which reached a diplomatic mutual recognition agreement with Israel in 2020.
Recent attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels also threaten commercial shipping in the Red Sea as Iran’s nuclear program continues to advance rapidly since the 2016 nuclear deal failed.
President Putin is expected to meet with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Thursday “for extended talks,” as his adviser, Yury Ushakov, described them.
Mr. Putin will also travel to Saudi Arabia and meet with the powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Mr. Ushakov said.
These discussions are likely to focus on Moscow’s other major issue in the Middle East – that of oil.