(Bloomberg) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia this week, using a rare trip abroad since his invasion of Ukraine to bolster partnerships with key oil producers.
Putin will meet with both UAE President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday to discuss a range of issues including trade and investment and Israel’s military campaign, according to the Kremlin. Interfax also reported that the oil market and the Ukraine war are set to be on the agenda.
In the UAE, Putin will be in Abu Dhabi and won’t visit the COP28 summit, which is taking place in the neighboring emirate of Dubai, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Bloomberg News.
The visit signals Putin’s growing confidence to travel outside Russia despite US and European efforts to isolate him on the global stage, with his economy on a surer footing and fighting in Ukraine settling into a stalemate. The Gulf states’ cooperation with Moscow is crucial for the Kremlin, given Russia’s dependence on energy revenues.
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Putin’s visit to the two key Gulf powers is “a clear sign” that Russia is breaking out of its international isolation, said Fyodor Lukyanov, head of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, which advises the Kremlin. The move serves to increase Russia’s Middle East influence and shows the UAE and Saudi Arabia, both traditional US allies, are keen to balance their foreign-policy interests, he said.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Russia are all members of OPEC+, the oil-producer alliance which last week agreed to extend and deepen its production cuts. In an interview with Bloomberg on Monday, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman emphasized the level of trust and cooperation between Riyadh and Moscow, a relationship which forms the backbone of the OPEC+ group.
Putin’s delegation in the UAE will include some of the most prominent Russian officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, who is responsible for OPEC+ talks, according to the state-run RIA Novosti agency. Bank of Russia Governor Elvira Nabiullina, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov will also accompany Putin. Businessmen including billionaire Vagit Alekperov, a Lukoil PJSC shareholder, may also join, according to RIA.
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Putin may be keen to exploit a wedge between the US and Saudi Arabia over Israel’s war against the Hamas militant group in Gaza.
Moscow supports Riyadh’s push for an immediate cease-fire as well as efforts to relaunch the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which calls for Israel to withdraw from Arab and Palestinian land as a prelude to creating a state for Palestinians alongside the Jewish one.
“The selectivity we have witnessed in applying international legal and moral standards and the disregard for the heinous crimes committed by Israeli occupation forces against defenseless Palestinian civilians have enraged the Islamic and Arab world,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan said in Moscow last month.
While the US has warned Israel over heavy civilian Palestinian casualties, Washington has maintained its support for Israel’s operation against Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the US and European Union.
Riyadh has also taken a different approach on Iran, which has deepened its ties and military cooperation with Russia since the invasion of Ukraine. Although Washington has issued public and private warnings to Iran and its network of armed groups not to provoke a regional war with Israel, Riyadh has gone out of its way to engage with Islamic Republic.
On Thursday, Putin will host Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who’ll lead a delegation to Moscow, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
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As Putin looks to bolster his ties with the Gulf leaders, the durability of America’s support for Ukraine is coming into question. President Joe Biden’s budget director warned this week that the US would run out of resources to assist Kyiv by the end of the year if lawmakers didn’t pass an emergency funding package. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said his country’s counteroffensive did not achieve its desired goals because allies had not provided hoped-for weapons.
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Putin has rarely left Russia since he ordered troops into Ukraine in February 2022, triggering a raft of international sanctions, though he has visited China and former Soviet neighbors. The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against him in March for alleged war crimes, further complicating travel outside his country.
The Russian leader didn’t attend either the August BRICS summit of emerging economies in South Africa or the Group of 20 gathering the following month in India, which isn’t a signatory to the court. Neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE have signed onto the ICC.
“Putin feels more confident, this density of external visits has not been seen for a long time,” said Elena Suponina, a Middle East analyst based in Moscow. “For Putin, both in Saudi Arabia and in the UAE, the goals of the visit are the same: matters related to OPEC, the Middle East conflict and the Russian chairmanship of BRICS.”
--With assistance from Sam Dagher.
(Updates with more details from second paragraph, including Putin’s delegation in seventh paragraph.)
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