From the moment Russia's president Vladimir Putin landed in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, to be greeted by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, as he stepped off the plane, the state visit was as notable for its warmth, grandeur and spectacle as it was for its formal affirmation of bilateral ties. Sheikh Mohamed referred to Mr Putin not just in the language of diplomacy but as a "friend" and accompanied him as the pair made their way, in a convoy of more than a dozen vehicles and helicopters, to the presidential palace at Qasr Al Watan. The twelve years since Mr Putin's last visit has seen a strengthening of trade, investment, cultural and strategic ties between the two nations. Since then, the two countries have come a long way in consolidating their relationship. Today, they work hand in hand in a variety of fields, ranging from defence and energy to commerce.
In fact, the UAE is Russia's biggest partner in the Gulf, with bilateral trade reaching Dh12.5 billion last year. The fruitful collaboration between the two now includes space exploration, as Russian expertise helped astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri, the first Emirati to go into space, in his quest to reach for the stars. Maj Al Mansouri was able to spend eight days on board the International Space Station thanks to the technology and training provided by Russia's space agency Roscosmos.
The UAE and Russia also collaborate on a host of defence matters, including counter-terrorism, a threat that both nations face. Two years ago, Russia and the UAE announced the start of a joint initiative to develop fifth-generation fighter aircraft. Last year Sheikh Mohamed and Mr Putin signed a declaration on strategic political, security, economic and cultural initiatives at the Kremlin. These projects are part of a bigger strategic partnership between Abu Dhabi and Moscow, which, in the words of Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, are “co-operating to ensure stability in the region and working together to counter and confront all forms of the extremist ideology''.
Multilateralism and diplomacy have always been a cornerstone of UAE foreign policy. Mr Putin’s visit comes at a time of rising tension with Iran in the Gulf, with Iran accused of targeting oil tankers and threatening maritime shipping routes, while in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, Tehran’s proxies are wreaking havoc. Yet Russia has managed to maintain good relations with leaders in all countries in the region, proving a master negotiator and diplomatic actor. This feat puts Moscow in a privileged position to reign in Turkey’s expansionist intentions in Syria and curb Iran’s meddling in the Arab world. Improved co-operation between Arab states and Russia could potentially be a stabilising factor for the region.
In a speech during his meeting with Mr Putin, Sheikh Mohamed referred to Moscow as “my second home” – a testament to the historic and fruitful ties that unite the two nations. This latest encounter between the two heads of state will certainly not be the last, and reflects the long-standing strategic interests and commercial links that bind two great nations.