The United Arab Emirates is looking to develop better relations with Russia. This was the message UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed sent out during his recent visit to the country. He also affirms the UAE’s commitment to using dialogue. It's what they want to use to reach a positive political solution. The country believes it’s the best way to gain stability and global peace.
UAE’s president met Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg last week. It was an unexpected visit since the country began its war on Ukraine.
Bin Zayed was a guest of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF). The event is one of Russia’s more famous international summits. No Western nation has attended the prestigious forum since the Ukraine invasion. An appearance of a prominent leader could put their country in the crosshairs of the US and Europe. These countries have been isolating Russia on the international stage.
Most of the officials who attended the SPIEF only had ministerial rankings. They also represented countries with a neutral stance on the Ukraine issue.
Reaching out to Russia is a calculated risk the UAE is reportedly willing to take. A high-ranking UAE official said it’s part of the country’s policy of dialogue and de-escalation. Especially as the world becomes more polarized in its politics.
Anwar Gargash, one of bin Zayed’s advisers, says they must break this polarization. The diplomat said Sheik Mohamed meets many Western leaders. It’s vital that he also meets and hears from President Putin. He said it's crucial in ensuring support for the international community’s efforts. It's necessary to establish peace between the two warring countries.
The head of the UAE met with his Russian counterpart. They discussed bilateral relations between their countries. They also talked about the ongoing conflict in the region. Sheik bin Zayed said the UAE and Russia enjoy robust cooperation. He also advocated for stronger diplomatic ties.
Bin Zayed emphasized his country's determination to achieve peace in the Middle East. He's also working on global peace.
He tweeted that the UAE will continue to support all efforts to reach a political solution. He said global peace and stability can become attained through dialogue and diplomacy.
Choosing Mediation to Achieve Political Resolutions
President Putin thanked the UAE president. Especially for his help in mediating a prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia. Putin said the swap meant a lot to many people, which was the most important thing.
Sheik bin Zayed accepted the thanks and even called Putin his friend. A Kremlin transcript indicated the UAE president was ready to help more on the Ukraine issue.
It quoted bin Zayed as saying the UAE is ready to assist in any way possible. He said the Emirates can help with humanitarian issues. They can also assist in stabilizing the situation in the region.
UAE’s WA news agency reported the same. It also added that their president supports more prisoner exchanges on both sides.
Gargash noted that countries have to think about making a positive difference. He said this is better than taking the conventional approach of staying away from a crisis.
There’s no denying the UAE has been active in mediating solutions between countries. The Emirates worked out the release of Brittney Griner in December. The American pro basketball player left Russia. But the US also had to release arms dealer Victor Bout.
One UAE official told news networks then that Griner’s release was due to Sheikh Mohamed. He met with the Russian president in October 2022.
Dina Esfandiary said the UAE is already suited for the role. The senior advisor said the country prefers to use mediation. It's how it builds its influence around the world. She noted that the UAE has positive relationships with both the US and Russia. This makes it a good proponent for dialogues.
Esfandiary noted that the country will test the waters first. It will see what it can get away with before going all out with Russia.
Moving Forward with Discreet Neutrality
Discreet neutrality appears to be the stance across the Middle East. The Gulf state has been doing a remarkable balancing act even a year after Russia’s war on Ukraine. The Emirates has also held its own against the United States. It campaigned to sway it to join the West’s sanctions against Russia.
But the UAE is also playing host to 5,000 US troops in Al Dhafra air base. It has also established close ties with Israel these past three years. The UAE has become one of Israel’s strongest allies in the region.
The UAE’s bilateral trade with Russia has also gone up in 2022. It rose 68% to $9 billion. Most of these are from Russian exports to the country. But that’s a small change when compared to the UAE’s largest trade partner. The country’s partnership with China has reached $72 billion. That’s in the non-oil trading sector. The UAE’s trade with the US only reached $23 billion in 2021.
The UAE also keeps communications open with Iran. It’s working on improving its delicate relations with Turkey. It’s also continuing to expand its business and trading efforts with China.
Not everyone is on board with UAE’s more permissive policy with Russia though. The country has also received some warnings from the US. The Western power said institutions that let Russia dodge sanctions could lose a lot. Especially its access to lucrative G7 markets.