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Putin Returns To World Stage With Rare Trips To UAE, Saudi Arabia

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Vladimir Putin is set to visit the UAE and Saudi Arabia before hosting the Iranian president in Moscow, hinting at a re-activation of Moscow’s Middle East diplomacy. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced the planned visits of the Russian president on Tuesday, adding that the agenda for Ebrahim Raisi’s Moscow visit is not finalized yet but discussions will likely include the Gaza war. 

Although not very frequently held, Raisi’s meeting with Putin is not unexpected as Tehran and Moscow are partners in crime, particularly since Iran is supplying Russia with drones and missiles for the invasion of Ukraine. 

Putin’s outreach to the Arab states of the Persian Gulf aligns with his broader strategy to foster global alliances outside the Western sphere, aimed at projecting the failure of US and its allies’ attempts to isolate Russia through sanctions. Aligning with the two most powerful Persian Gulf states helps give Putin a degree of credibility more than the allegiance with Iran, as the world views Russia, like Iran, as a rogue state.

The visit comes after OPEC+ agreed to voluntary supply cuts totaling about 2.2 million barrels per day (bpd), including an extension of existing Saudi and Russian voluntary cuts of 1.3 million bpd. Russia cooperates with all three countries in the OPEC+ group of oil producers, which last week announced new voluntary production cuts that were greeted skeptically by the oil market because of doubts as to whether they would be fully implemented. 

Representatives of Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan during group photo ceremony at the annual meeting of the Caspian Sea littoral states, known as the ‘Caspian Five’ in Moscow, Russia December 5, 2023

The visits by Putin and Raisi come as Russia is also hosting the littoral countries of the Caspian Sea, in a cooperation framework that Moscow says strengthens security in Eurasia. “The joint work of the Caspian countries makes a significant contribution to ensuring security, stability and sustainable development on the Eurasian continent,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a meeting with his Azerbaijani, Iranian, Kazakh and Turkmen counterparts in Moscow on Tuesday. 

Lavrov proposed the creation of “the Caspian Council — a forum for cooperation and dialogue without any bureaucratic schemes,” emphasizing the need for enhanced international legal foundations and cooperation among Caspian countries. He expressed hope for further collaboration based on the outcomes of the upcoming Third Caspian Economic Forum in Tehran. 

The Russian foreign minister also highlighted that deepening practical cooperation across the region is also significant in a broader sense, namely in the context of the formation of a multipolar world order. Last month, hundreds of military leaders, lawmakers, diplomats and scholars convened in Canada’s 2023 Halifax International Security Forum to discuss the alignment of Russia, Iran, China, and North Korea as a substantial threat to the established world order. 

Leaders of these countries, including Iran’s ruler Ali Khamenei, have repeatedly talked of a new global order not based on Western values.

It is a rare foreign visit for Putin who now has an ICC arrest warrant on his head for alleged war crimes in Ukraine. While it may limit his travels to most of the world, there remain some who still welcome him.