UAE and Russian flags have lined Abu Dhabi's Corniche since Saturday as the two nations celebrate long-standing ties ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin's arrival on Tuesday. It is Mr Putin's second official visit to Abu Dhabi. During his last visit in 2007, he was presented with the Order of Zayed, the country's highest honour.
Mr Putin is travelling from Saudi Arabia to the UAE on his Middle Eastern tour, where he will meet Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. His visit is testament to the close relations between the Gulf countries and Russia, with strategic interests and economic ties bringing Moscow and the UAE closer. Bilateral trade reached Dh12.5 billion last year, with more than 3,000 Russian companies registered in the country. The mutual interests between the two countries were cemented in a declaration of strategic partnership that was signed last year. The pact covered politics, security, the economy and culture and has since given impetus to a more comprehensive approach to Emirati-Russian ties.
That relationship bore fruit in August with the Aqdar World Summit, organised by the UAE, held in Moscow and attended by a large delegation of Emirati ministers, including Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior. Col Dr Abdulrahman Al Mansoori, the summit's general co-ordinator, stated that the primary goal of the initiative was for "Emirati and Russian organisations to learn from one another". Mr Putin's visit is expected to result in the signing of 15 agreements in various fields such as nuclear power, oil and the environment.
The Russian president’s visit comes at a precarious time for the Middle East, still reeling with the repercussions of Turkey’s invasion of Syria and attacks on Saudi Arabia by Iran-backed militia. As a geopolitical actor, Russia wields considerable influence across the region and is looked to as a stabilising player. But beyond the economic, political and strategic bonds that tie the two countries together, Russia and the UAE enjoy strong cultural ties as well. About 40,000 Russians and 100,000 Russian speakers live in the UAE and tourism flourishes between the two nations. Emiratis are granted visas on arrival in Russia and since 2017, Russians landing in the Emirates have been granted free, automatic 30-day visas. As a result, some one million Russian tourists visit the UAE annually, compared to just 600,000 three years ago.
Mr Putin's visit also coincides with the homecoming of a national hero, as Hazza Al Mansouri returns to the UAE. Maj Al Mansouri made history by becoming the first Emirati to travel to the International Space Station last week. The mission was fuelled by a combination of Russian expertise and technology and Emirati determination. It was with the support and knowledge of the Russian space industry that he was able to board the ISS after travelling on a Soyuz rocket that blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, a Kazakh spaceport leased to Russia. Maj Al Masouri's mission proved that international collaboration is key to achieving great feats, while making his nation proud and, hopefully, inspiring young Arabs to follow in his steps. It could also pave the way for more fruitful partnerships in space technology between Russia and the UAE and aid the advancement of science and space exploration.
From space technology to regional politics and energy deals, the UAE and Russia have a long history of collaborating that will no doubt be renewed and improved on during Mr Putin’s upcoming visit, taking both nations to new heights.