Putin Meets Saudi Crown Prince On Rare Trip To Shore Up Ties

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Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman as part of a rare foreign trip to the Gulf region that aimed to strengthen partnerships and defy US and European efforts to isolate him on the global stage.

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

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. The talks in Saudi Arabia come 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.

The two leaders met for more than three hours. They discussed OPEC+ and the Israel-Palestine conflict, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said after the meeting concluded, according to state-run Tass news service.

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.

Mohammed bin Salman welcomes Vladimir Putin at Al Yamamah Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Dec. 6.Source: Royal Court of Saudi Arabia/Handout/Anadolu/Getty Images

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.

Putin suggested that Russia and Saudi Arabia could launch a large fertilizer joint venture, while introducing Dmitry Mazepin, a shareholder of Russia’s Uralchem-Uralkali group, to the crown prince. Russia is the world’s largest producer, accounting for about 15% of global annual consumption of all fertilizers.

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.

Welcome Party

Putin’s plane was escorted by four Su-35 fighter jets on its flight to the UAE. Those jets were also set to accompany his plane to Riyadh, according to state-run RIA Novosti.

Russia received special permission for the flight from the countries whose airspace they crossed, Peskov said, according to Tass. 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.

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,” said Alexander Baunov, a senior fellow at the Berlin-based Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center. “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.”

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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