| 3 March 2024, Sunday |

Russia’s Putin meets Saudi crown prince in whirlwind Gulf visit

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday had hastily arranged talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on oil, Gaza and Ukraine, hours after visiting Saudi Arabia’s Gulf neighbour, the United Arab Emirates.

It was not immediately clear what Putin, who has rarely left Russia since the start of the Ukraine war, intended to raise specifically about oil or geopolitics in a meeting with the de facto ruler of the world’s largest crude exporter.

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

In introductory remarks shown on Russian television, Putin thanked the crown prince for his invitation, saying he had originally expected MbS to visit Moscow, “but there were changes to plans”.

Their next meeting should take place in Moscow, he said, adding: “Nothing can prevent the development of our friendly relations.”

The crown prince told Putin their countries could “work together for the good of the whole world”, according to an official interpreter.

Russia’s defence ministry had earlier shown the Kremlin chief’s Ilyushin-96 aircraft flanked by Sukhoi-35S fighter jets on its flight from Russia to the United Arab Emirates.

Putin’s delegation included top oil, economy, foreign affairs, space and nuclear energy officials as well as business leaders.

At his first stop in Abu Dhabi, President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan welcomed his “dear friend”, while a fly-past of UAE jets trailed the colours of the Russian 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.”

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.

He then headed to Riyadh for his first face-to-face talks with MbS since October 2019 – days after a key OPEC+ meeting was delayed because of disagreements – superseding what should have been an MbS visit to Moscow.

Putin’s last visit to the region was in July 2022, when he met Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran. The Russian president was due to host his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi in Moscow on Thursday.

  • Reuters