Russia and the UAE: Friends with Benefits
Russia’s deepening engagement in the Middle East is a positive development from the United Arab Emirates’ perspective. The Emiratis, with their unique relationship with the Kremlin, are trying to resolve regional security challenges that threaten their interests. More importantly, the Emiratis’ relationship with the Kremlin could help the UAE become an important interlocutor in efforts to defuse tensions between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The UAE’s strong relationship with Russia was on display when Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ), Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, visited Putin in the Kremlin on April 20. The two discussed crises in the Middle East as well as strengthening an already substantial relationship between their two countries. The visit took place at a time when the Trump administration has ratcheted up its anti-Iran rhetoric and US-Russia relations have reached an all-time low.
In Russia, MBZ said channels of communication between Abu Dhabi and Moscow are open on all regional and international issues, and Russia can play a constructive role in bringing stability and peace to the Middle East. In a joint statement issued at the end of the visit, the UAE and Russia declared their “intention to study a strategic partnership to further promote Russian-UAE relations.”
According to both Russian and Arab officials, this emerging strategic partnership’s first focus is Yemen, where the UAE wants Russia to help extricate Saudi Arabia from its war against the Zaidi Houthi rebels. With the Kremlin’s help, the Riyadh-led coalition could achieve this goal following a political process that includes holding presidential elections in Yemen later this year.