Aboard the pride of the Russian airfleet, Vladimir Putin touched down in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday to a royal welcome reserved for only the UAE’s most valued partners.
The Russian leader's Ilyushin 96 jet landed at the airport after midday and he travelled in a convoy of more than a dozen vehicles to Qasr Al Watan as helicopters hovered overhead.
Along the route, the streets were festooned with Emirati and Russian flags and Al Fursan aerobatics team streamed across the sky displaying the colours of the Russian flag.
Both sides agreed on a host of deals on Tuesday across energy, nuclear power, aviation and the environment.
Energy took centre stage. Abu Dhabi National Oil Company signed a major agreement with Russia’s Gazprom Neft to team up in production, artificial intelligence and techniques to extract more oil from existing fields.
The two sides will look for opportunities in exploration and production and will look at a collaboration in sour gas, or gas with a large volume of sulphur.
Most gas caps in Abu Dhabi are sulphurous, including Ghasha, in which Russian company Lukoil has secured a 5 per cent concession.
This marks the first time a Russian energy company has taken part in Abu Dhabi’s exploration and production.
Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of State and Adnoc Group chief executive said: "This comprehensive framework agreement with Gazprom Neft is a natural evolution of the close and deep bilateral relations between the UAE and Russia, and provides a foundation to strengthen and expand the strategic energy relationship between both countries."
Aviation was another area in which huge progress was made. Both sides agreed to increase flights between the two countries from the current 100 a week.
Mr Putin’s trip further cemented the increasingly close partnership between the countries and the welcome afforded to him was a testament to the flourishing ties.
“I am very pleased to see my brother and friend after more than a year since our last meeting in Moscow,” said Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
“Moscow is my second home and I would like to thank you again for your warm welcome during my visit. The UAE is honoured with your visit today.”
The UAE and Russia agreed to deepen the already strong partnership in space and tourism, and regional energy co-operation through Opec+, the group of oil producers that has sought to bolster the oil market since 2016.
Mr Putin presented a white gyrfalcon to Sheikh Mohamed, who gave the Russian leader an ornate model of Qasr Al Hosn.
Mr Putin arrived at the gilded halls of Qasr Al Watan about 1.30pm as a 21-gun salute boomed and the sweet smell of oud drifted through the Presidential Palace in a traditional Emirati welcome.
It is exactly 12 years since Mr Putin last visited the UAE and the Russian leader said he was pleased to be in the country again.
“During the short tour from the airport to your headquarters, I watched from the car window the vigorous dynamism of the development of your country,” he said.
Mr Putin first greeted sheikhs, dignitaries and government ministers. The national anthems of both countries played and he inspected an Emirati guard of honour.
Sheikh Mohamed and the Russian leader then met the UAE’s first astronaut, Hazza Al Mansouri, and his backup Sultan Al Neyadi.
Maj Al Mansouri returned to the UAE days ago from a mission to the International Space Station on board a Russian-made Soyuz rocket.
Mr Putin congratulated the UAE on Maj Al Mansouri’s achievements and said Russia would continue to support the country's space ambitions.
Within an hour, the formalities were over and both leaders prepared for a busy day of high-level meetings and bilateral engagements at the palace.
At a meeting between the two leaders and their delegations, Sheikh Mohamed said the partnership between the two countries was of immense importance.
"I hope this visit will have a deep effect to enhance the strategic relationship between our countries and lead to further opportunities for each country,” he said.
The UAE has been in celebration mode all week. A spectacular display of Russian culture opened at Emirates Palace hotel on Monday.
During UAE-Russia week, visitors can sample a slice of Russian life through folk dancing, food and ballet until Thursday.
“Cultural collaboration and the sharing of our traditional heritage with one another are integral to bringing our two cultures closer,” said Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, who launched the event.
“The UAE’s relationship with Russia dates back more than 47 years when our Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed, laid the foundations of these bilateral ties.
“The launch of UAE-Russia Week opens opportunities for artists and creatives to communicate in both cultures.”
Landmarks in the UAE capital, such as Marina Mall and Khalifa University, lit up with the Russian colours while Abu Dhabi Police patrol cars were decorated in the country's banner and cryllic script.
Mr Putin’s journey to the UAE began a few days earlier. He arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday and from there travelled to the Emirates with a huge delegation of trade officials, ministers and government representatives, including his long-serving Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov.
Trade between the UAE and Russia reached Dh12.5 billion in 2018, while more than 3,000 Russian companies are registered in the UAE.
A strategic partnership was struck between both countries in 2018 and co-operation now extends across space, technology, defence and tourism.
Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala and the Russian Direct Investment Fund teamed up in 2013 to create a $7 billion (Dh25bn) fund with $2bn already invested.
Both are now committed to 45 projects across Russia in health care, technology, artificial intelligence and mixed martial arts.
Russian officials had previously spoken of how UAE support had assisted its economy during the oil slump in 2014 and this was reinforced by Mr Putin on Tuesday.
“We appreciate your personal support for investing in Russia’s economy,” he said.
“Your Russian partners are doing their best to ensure the success of these investments as these exceed international rates.”
Mr Putin's trip in 2007 was the first by a Russian leader since diplomatic relations were established between the countries after the UAE's Federation in December, 1971.
And Tuesday’s visit was an opportunity for both sides to reflect on that time.
President Sheikh Khalifa bestowed the Order of Zayed, the UAE’s highest civilian honour, on Mr Putin, while the Russian leader thanked Sheikh Khalifa for allowing an Orthodox Church to be built in Sharjah.
The 20,000-capacity church opened in 2011 and is the largest such place of worship in the Arabian Gulf.
On Tuesday, Mr Putin conveyed his regards to Sheikh Khalifa.
“I would like you to send my best wishes for health to the UAE President,” he said.
Relations have only grown stronger since those days in 2007. Today about 30,000 Russians call the UAE home, while a million Russians visit the UAE every year.
Mr Putin’s tour of the UAE ended at 8.59pm as his aircraft left the runway in Abu Dhabi.
Sheikh Mohamed posted a picture on Twitter of the Russian president waving goodbye from the top of steps leading up his plane.
“I hope this visit will have a great impact and that it will present a quantum leap in our relationship,” Sheikh Mohamed said on Tuesday night.