A 19th century painting of Konstantinovksy Palace, St. Petersburg
There was something profoundly meaningful that the President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan undertook a visit to Russia amidst the gathering storms in Ukraine. Conscious of the symbolism, Russian President Vladimir Putin received Sheikh Mohammed on Tuesday in a grand setting befitting a monarch — at the gorgeous Konstantinovksy Palace in St. Petersburg whose heritage dates back to Peter the Great, a symbol of the revival of Russia and its cultural heritage.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) warmly greets the UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan upon arrival at Konstantinovsky Palace, St. Petersburg, October 11, 2022
The meeting of the two potentates couldn’t have been more timely. Sheikh Mohammed and his Saudi kinsperson, Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud had just handed down a strategic defeat to a superpower in the geopolitics of oil, as the world community witnessed disbelievingly and understood that the sun has set on the American Century in international politics.
Putin too stands at the threshold of a historic victory over the combined might of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which is poised to redraw the contours of the new world order. Putin told Sheikh Mohammed that the relations between Russia and the UAE are “an important factor of regional and overall global stability.”
Putin said, “I know that you are concerned about the entire situation that is developing, and I know about your desire to make a contribution to resolving all contentious issues, including the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. I would like to note that, indeed, this substantial factor makes it possible to use your influence to help gradually resolve the situation.”
The words were carefully chosen. Putin noted the UAE’s desire “to help gradually resolve the situation” in Ukraine, underscoring that a denouement is not in the cards in a near term. [Emphasis added.] However, the centrepiece of Putin’s remarks was something else — OPEC Plus where Saudi Arabia, UAE and Russia are virtually navigating the global energy markets.
Putin signalled that Moscow is not at al viewing the OPEC+ decision in zero sum terms. Rather, its aim is “to stabilise global energy markets, so that consumers of energy resources and those supplying them to global markets would feel calm, stable and confident, and so that supply and demand would be balanced.” Of course, embedded within this polite submission is a tough message to the G7 that any further attempt on their part to extend their weaponisation of sanctions to the global energy market is unacceptable and will be resisted and defeated.
These were Putin’s first remarks on the collective decision announced by the OPEC+ at its meeting in Vienna last Thursday to cut oil production by 2 million barrels per day. Putin concluded firmly that Russia will “respond to market requirements all the time, and we try to do this in line with current developments.”
Sheikh Mohammed unmistakably signalled that his visit focused on boosting its bilateral relations with Russia, especially in the economic sphere. As the western sanctions atrophy Russia’s flourishing economic ties with Europe, Moscow is turning to the non-Western world for partnerships, and reorienting its regional strategies. Putin has repeatedly stated that Russia will gladly engage with any country that stands up to western bullying.
The UAE has been quick to grasp that Russia prioritises the Emirates as a favoured destination to conduct business. The uniqueness of the UAE for Moscow lies in its dynamic environment for doing business as well as for opening a window for the Russian industry to the Western world. Moscow has been receiving strong feelers from European partners about resuming business ties albeit indirectly. After all, Russian market is synonymous with high business returns.
A crucial template here is Moscow’s appreciation of the growing emphasis by the UAE to preserve its strategic autonomy. The Russian elites admire Sheikh Mohammad for rapidly transforming the Emirates from an economy once reliant on fishing and pearls, to become a financial powerhouse and diverse economy, and providing a stable political system, strong capital flow, favourable taxation environment and liberal trade regimes.
Indeed, the UAE is now an attractive investment hub with a ‘2021 Vision’ of becoming the economic, touristic and commercial capital for over two billion people. As the Russians see it, these ambitious goals will continue to facilitate a hospitable, well-regulated and secure business ecosystem in the UAE. The World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index ranks the UAE ranks among the top dozen out of 160 countries in terms of trade logistics.
Equally, Moscow does not envisage that it could be “business as usual” with the Europeans anytime soon — if not ever. The the resuscitation of the West’s Nazi heritage to spite Russia and the destruction of the Nord Stream gas pipelines to punish Russia are only the culmination of an excessively obnoxious behaviour by the US and its allies to humiliate Russia over the decades — pouring scorn over its cultural heritages of language, literature, music, etc. out of sheer envy — in an appalling zest to “erase” Russia as a powerhouse. This has created deep wounds in the Russian psyche.
With 4000 Russian companies operating out of the UAE, there is a rapidly growing Russian community in the Gulf region and Sheikh Mohammed noted that the Emirates will provide a friendly ambience for the Russian expatriates by approving the opening of the first Russian school in the Emirates. Conceivably, this must be the first such Russian school in that part of the world.
The Russian business community visualises the UAE as a prime launch-pad to access markets around the world. Its geographical location and amicable time zone (GMT +4), give businesses wishing to access markets in Africa, Asia and Europe a regional and business-centric hub from which to operate. Russia has set its sights high for expanding its relations with African countries, where it enjoys tremendous “soft power” dating back to the Soviet era.
In geopolitical terms, Sheikh Mohammed’s decision to travel to Russia to meet with Putin comes in the backdrop of the temper tantrums of the American political elites threatening to “punish” Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The Democrats have brashly called for the withdrawal of US troops in the UAE and Saudi Arabia and cutback on arms supplies.
These Neanderthal men ought to have become museum pieces by now. They do not comprehend that the West Asian elites have a cosmopolitan mindset and know these hollow men well enough, having interacted with them in their pristine years and watched stoically more recently as they began ageing, showing signs of exhaustion and senility.
By this visit to St. Petersburg, Sheikh Mohammed may have in his own astute way shown that such crude American threats will only be counter-productive. Earlier once, the Biden Administration had bullied him to severe UAE’s relations with China to qualify for F-35 jets, whereupon, in disgust, he turned to France’s Rafale.
Russia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have the potential to form a troika where each of the members augments the political power of the other two members and at the same time collectively impact the actual distribution of power in a multipolar world. The OPEC Plus has shown the way. Sheikh Mohammed’s meeting with Putin comes within the week of the OPEC Plus meeting in Vienna.