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Putin Arrives Middle East To Talk Oil With Saudi Crown Prince

Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, during a rare trip abroad, to discuss oil production, OPEC+ and the wars in the Gaza Strip and Ukraine.

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 and allies led by Russia, to further cut output.

Putin arrived in Abu Dhabi for talks with President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan who called Putin his “dear friend”. He is due to then travel to Saudi Arabia for his first face-to-face meeting with MbS since October 2019.

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The Kremlin said they would discuss energy cooperation, including as part of OPEC+, whose members pump more than 40% of the world’s oil.

“Our relations, largely due to your position, have reached an unprecedentedly high level,” Putin told Sheikh Mohammed, known as MbZ, at the presidential palace. “The UAE is Russia’s main trading partner in the Arab world.”

Putin said Russia and the UAE cooperated as part of OPEC+, adding that they would talk about the Israeli-Hamas conflict and the situation in Ukraine.

The Kremlin chief’s 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, specifically intends to raise about oil markets with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude exporter, just days after disagreements delayed a key OPEC+ meeting.

As well as oil, they will talk about the war between Israel and Hamas militants, the situation in Syria and Yemen, and broader issues such as ensuring stability in the Gulf, the Kremlin said. A Kremlin aide said Ukraine would also be discussed.

Putin will host Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Moscow on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Putin and MbS, who together control one-fifth of the oil pumped each day, have long enjoyed close relations, though both have at times been ostracised by the West.

At a G20 summit in 2018, just two month after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate, Putin and MbS high-fived and shook hands with smiles.

MbS, 38, has sought to reassert Saudi Arabia as a regional power with less deference to the United States, which supplies Riyadh with most of its weapons and which is the world’s top producer of oil.

Putin, who sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022, says Russia is engaged in an existential battle with the West – and has courted allies across the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia amid Western attempts to isolate Moscow.

Both MbS and Putin, 71, want – and need – high prices for oil – the lifeblood of their economies. The question for both, is how much of the burden each should take on to keep prices aloft – and how to verify the burden.

OPEC+ last month delayed its meeting by several days due to disagreements over production levels by some members. Saudi’s energy minister said OPEC+ also wanted more assurances from Moscow it would do good on its pledge to reduce fuel exports.

Relations between Saudi and Russia in OPEC+ have at times been uneasy and a deal on cuts almost broke down in March 2020, with markets already shaken by the onset of the COVID pandemic.

But the two managed to patch up their relations within weeks and OPEC+ agreed to record cuts of almost 10% of global demand to prop up the oil markets.

Since war broke out between Israel and Hamas on Oct. 7, Putin has cast the conflict as a failure of U.S. policy in the Middle East and has fostered ties with Arab allies and Iran, as well as with the militant Palestinian group.

When Russia intervened in the Syrian Civil War in 2015, it helped tip the balance in Bashar Al-Assad’s favour, ensuring the Syrian President’s survival despite Western demands that he be toppled. (Reuters)

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