| 29 February 2024, Thursday |

Putin, flanked by Russian fighters, jets into Middle East to meet Saudi’s MbS

 President Vladimir Putin was escorted to the Middle East by four Russian fighter jets on Wednesday for a rare trip abroad, during which he will discuss oil, Gaza and Ukraine with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Putin’s meeting with the prince known as MbS comes after oil prices fell despite a pledge by OPEC+, which groups the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies led by Russia, to further cut output.

The Kremlin chief’s plane was flanked by Sukhoi-35S fighter jets, which the defence ministry showed flying beside his Ilyushin-96 aircraft from Russia to the United Arab Emirates.

In Abu Dhabi, President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan welcomed his “dear friend” and UAE jets greeted the Kremlin chief with a fly-past trailing the colours of Russia’s flag.

“Our relations, largely due to your position, have reached an unprecedentedly high level,” Putin told him. “The UAE is Russia’s main trading partner in the Arab world.”

The Russian delegation includes top oil, economy, foreign affairs, space and nuclear energy officials.

Putin said Russia and the UAE cooperated as part of OPEC+, whose members pump more than 40% of the world’s oil, adding that they would discuss the Israeli-Hamas conflict and Ukraine.

After the UAE, Putin is due to travel to Saudi Arabia for his first face-to-face meeting with MbS since October 2019. His last visit to the region was in July 2022, when he met Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran.

It was not immediately clear what Putin, who has rarely left Russia since the start of the Ukraine war, intends to raise specifically about oil or geopolitics with the crown prince of the world’s largest crude exporter.

The trip to meet MbS, just days after a key OPEC+ meeting was delayed, appeared rushed. One source had told Reuters beforehand that MbS had plans to visit Moscow.

Putin, who last visited the region in mid-2022, is due to host his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi in Moscow on Thursday.

  • Reuters