Russian President Vladimir Putin and President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan shake hands during a meeting at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on Friday.Ilya Pitalev/Sputnik/Reuters
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Russia’s largest economic forum, shunned by the West after the invasion of Ukraine, had a last-minute high-profile guest Friday – United Arab Emirates President Mohamed bin Zayed.
While on a working visit to Russia, the UAE president briefly toured the country’s pavilion at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF).
Until Friday morning, most foreign officials listed to attend were largely at the ministerial level, representing countries that have played a neutral role in Russia’s war on Ukraine.
“I am pleased to be here today with you, your Excellency, and we wish to build on this relationship and we put our trust in you to do so,” Sheikh Mohammed told Putin.
Held in the city of Putin’s birth and upbringing, the SPIEF was once one of Russia’s main international summits. The event however has seen no attendance from Western nations since the Ukraine war and a prominent appearance risks drawing the ire of the US and Europe determined to isolate Russia in the international stage.
For the UAE, this is a “calculated risk” it is willing to take, part of the Gulf nation’s policy of de-escalation and dialogue in an increasingly polarized world, a top UAE official told CNN in exclusive comments on Thursday.
The UAE’s state-run WAM news agency said Sheikh Mohamed spoke to Putin about accelerating efforts to “mitigate the humanitarian repercussions of the crisis and supporting prisoner-exchange initiatives on both sides.”
Gargash said that rather than take a “conventional view of staying away from a crisis that’s engulfing everybody… we do really have to think of a positive difference.”
In December, the UAE mediated the release of American basketball player Brittney Griner in exchange for Russian arms dealer Victor Bout.
A senior UAE official told CNN in December that Sheikh Mohamed’s meeting with Putin in October last year was part of the reason Griner was released.
Dina Esfandiary, senior advisor for the Middle East and North Africa at the Crisis Group, said the UAE builds influence globally through mediation.
“Given it maintained ties with Russia and also speaks with the US, it is well-placed to do this,” she told CNN.
One year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Gulf state’s balancing act demonstrates a wider policy across the Middle East of discreet neutrality, as well as the United States’ inability to sway its Middle Eastern allies to join the Western camp against its adversaries.
Read more at: cnn.com
Photos: cnn.com, Ilya Pitalev/Sputnik/Reuters