Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia on Wednesday as part of a lightning tour designed to boost Moscow's credibility as a Middle Eastern leader, even as the war in Ukraine continues.

The Associated Press writes about it.

Fireworks in honor of Putin in the UAE: how the Emirates are trying to "sit on two chairs"

Putin has landed in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the Emirates, where the UN's COP28 climate talks are taking place. It was his first trip to the region since the coronavirus pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Speaking at the beginning of the talks with UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Putin proposed to discuss energy cooperation, the conflict in the Middle East and the "Ukrainian crisis". He praised the current state of relations between Russia and the UAE and congratulated the country on hosting the COP28 climate talks.

Vladimir Putin with Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan / Photo: Associated Press

Putin, who restricted his foreign travel after sending troops to invade Ukraine, visited China in October and made several trips to former Soviet republics in recent months. The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for him in connection with the war in Ukraine.

Neither the UAE nor Saudi Arabia has signed a treaty establishing the ICC, which means they are not obliged to detain Putin on a warrant accusing him of being personally responsible for the abduction of children from Ukraine during the war. Putin skipped the summit in South Africa amid speculation that he could be arrested upon arrival.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE's foreign minister, greeted a smiling Putin after he stepped off the ramp of his presidential plane. Four Russian Air Force Su-35 fighter jets escorted him all the way from Russia, landing at Abu Dhabi Commercial Airport, as Al Dhafra Air Base is the main U.S. military center in the region.

Although the UAE is a U.S. ally, it has close ties with Russia. They greeted Putin at Abu Dhabi's Qasr al-Watan Palace with a 21-gun salute and a flight of UAE warplanes emitting smoke in the colors of the Russian flag.

"I am glad to meet you again," Sheikh Mohammed said, sitting with Putin. He later issued a statement saying they discussed "the importance of strengthening dialogue and cooperation to ensure stability and progress."

The celebrations in the Emirates, which relies on the U.S. as its main security partner, underscore the UAE's extensive business ties with Russia, which have expanded since the tightening of Western sanctions targeting Moscow. Russian commentators say the UAE is a key route for Russia to circumvent sanctions.

A new level of Russian-Saudi relations

Upon Putin's arrival in Saudi Arabia's capital, Riyadh, he and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman exchanged a firm handshake and smiles as they walked to the meeting.

Vladimir Putin with Mohammed bin Salman / Photo: Associated Press

Putin said Russian-Saudi relations "have reached a level they have never seen." He said that "it is very important to exchange information and assessments of what is happening in the region."

Mohammed, in turn, noted that Russian-Saudi cooperation has contributed to strengthening security in the Middle East, adding that "our future political interaction and cooperation will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the global situation."

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After talks involving officials from both countries, Putin and Mohammed also spoke over a face-to-face dinner to discuss the war between Israel and Hamas and "other sensitive issues on the international agenda," according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia are key participants in international efforts to resolve the war between Israel and Hamas. Putin has close personal ties to both rulers.

Putin's Goals in the Middle East

Putin is trying to raise Russia's profile as a mediator in the conflict in the Middle East and challenge Washington by portraying the war as a failure of American diplomacy. He suggested that Moscow could mediate through its friendly ties with both Israel and the Palestinians.

Vladimir Putin / Photo: Associated Press

On Thursday, December 7, Putin continues his diplomacy, receiving Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in the Kremlin.

The war between Israel and Hamas remains a major concern for the Middle East, especially the UAE, which reached diplomatic recognition with Israel in 2020. Recent attacks by Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels also threaten commercial shipping in the Red Sea, as Iran's nuclear program continues to boom after the collapse of the 2016 nuclear deal.

Russia is part of OPEC+, a group of cartel members and other countries that manage oil production in order to drive up crude oil prices. Last week, the group expanded some production cuts for next year and brought in a new oil supplier, Brazil. Benchmark Brent crude traded around $6 a barrel on Wednesday, up from nearly $77 in September, on concerns about a weakening global economy.

Kremlin spokesman Peskov said that Putin and Mohammed discussed cooperation within the framework of OPEC+ during talks on Wednesday, December 6, noting the responsibility of their countries for stabilizing the global oil market.

The world's reaction to "Putin's exit from the bunker"

Putin's visit comes after a number of Western leaders spoke at COP28, including US Vice President Kamala Harris, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and others who support Ukraine.

U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power visited Ukrainian pavilion at COP28.

Later, speaking to reporters, Kerry said in response to a question about Putin: "Apart from the fact that you mention him here, I forgot a little bit that he could come to the region."

"I think because of what he's done in Ukraine, his presence can encourage people to do what Europe has done — the fastest transition to another fuel as a result of his actions," Kerry said. "He single-handedly accelerated the transformation of Europe more than anyone else by taking gas into service."

Ukrainians present at the COP28 conference expressed outrage that Putin is in the country at the same time that he is committing environmental crimes in their country.

"It's extremely disappointing to see how the world treats war criminals, because that's what it is, in my opinion," said Margarita Bogdanova, an employee of the Ukrainian pavilion at the COP28 climate summit, wiping away tears. "To see people admitting people like him to big events, ... treating him like a dear guest is so hypocritical, in my opinion."