Putin Makes Moves in Middle East

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Putin is making a trip to the Middle East, meeting with the Gulf leaders of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This comes at a time that the war in Ukraine is slowly shifting to Russia’s advantage.

Russia and the Arab Gulf states share an oil exporting economy. They have often cooperated on these matters to better control the international market. Now Russia wants to expand this cooperation to closer diplomatic ties. The NY Times says:

President Vladimir V. Putin will make a rare trip to the Middle East on Wednesday, the Kremlin announced, saying he would discuss bilateral relations, oil and international affairs in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The trip is part of a flurry of diplomatic meetings the Russia leader will conduct this week; on Thursday in Moscow, Mr. Putin will host President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran, the leader of another key player in the region.

This is one of the rare trips for the Russian leader outside of Russia. International bodies have called for his arrest based on an International Criminal Court warrant. Few if any states would dare to execute it, as it would violate diplomatic norms and threaten war with a nuclear armed state. The Guardian says:

In July he skipped a summit in Pretoria over fears that the South African hosts would feel obliged to attempt his arrest. Neither the UAE nor Saudi Arabia have signed the ICC’s founding treaty, which means they would not have to arrest him.

Hamas, which most western countries consider to be a terrorist group, is on good terms with Russia, frequently sending delegations to Moscow. Qatar, the west’s preferred interlocutor with Hamas, has been unable to find the basis for a further hostage swap between Israel and the Palestinian group, the precondition for a second humanitarian pause, so Putin has relatively little to lose by intervening now.

Moscow’s ties to the Assad regime in Syria has previously isolated it from many in the Gulf. Following the Hamas attack in Israel on October 7, many Arab and Muslim leaders have expressed solidarity among each other. Assad is no longer sidelined, which means Russia can in turn spread its influence in the region.

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