Russian President Vladimir Putin is making a rare trip to the Middle East.
He'll visit the UAE and Saudi Arabia, traditionally US allies.
Putin is seeking to show attempts to isolate him over Ukraine have failed.
Only months ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin's grip on power appeared to be loosening.
The Russian president faced a coup from the Wagner mercenary force in Ukraine. At the same time, he was battling spiraling domestic economic woes caused by sanctions imposed in punishment for the Ukraine invasion and was the subject of an international arrest warrant over alleged war crimes committed by his forces.
It appeared that President Joe Biden's bid to weaken Putin and make him a global pariah over the Ukraine war was beginning to work.
But the Russian president is clawing back the initiative. He is making a rare trip to the Middle East today as he seeks to embarrass Biden by showing him that attempts to isolate Russia have failed.
Putin is visiting the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, traditionally two of the US' closest allies in the Middle East.
It's among the first trips Putin has made abroad since the International Criminal Court issued the arrest warrant in March, with neither of the Gulf states signatories of the Rome convention.
Analysts told Business Insider that he will use the visit to try and drive a wedge between Washington and the Arab states, and expose the limits of US power.
Putin exploits Arab rage over US support for Israel
Near the top of the agenda will likely be the Israel-Hamas war, where Putin has sought to exploit rage in the Arab world over Biden's support for Israel's bombing of Gaza in response to Hamas' terrorist attacks.
Hamas' attacks on October 7th killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli authorities. Gazan health authorities say Israel's subsequent strikes killed more than 16,000 people.
Putin has said the West's support for Israel exposes its hypocrisy, with the US having sought to rally global support for isolating Russia by citing the Russian massacre of civilians in Ukraine.
He has even sought to compare Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine to the Palestinian fight against Israel's US-backed government, as part of a battle against broader US global dominance.
"Putin's government has reacted to the carnage in Gaza in ways that serve to boost Russia's soft power influence in the wider Arab-Islamic world, while also taking advantage of an opportunity to have international attention shift away from the Russian invasion and occupation of parts of Ukraine," explained Giorgio Cafiero, CEO of Washington, DC, consultancy Gulf State Analytics.
Putin will also be seeking to expose how Western attempts to isolate Russia economically have failed.
Despite Western attempts to cut off Russia's oil exports, Russia is recording record oil profits, as nations including India and Brazil — which have refused to take part in the Western embargo of Russia — buy up cheap Siberian oil.
The Kremlin has worked closely with Gulf states to control oil production and keep prices competitive. The Saudis even got into a diplomatic spat with the White House last year when they rejected demands to increase production and instead sided with the Kremlin to reduce it.
Arab states defy the US
The wealthy Gulf states, and much of the so-called "global south" of poorer developing nations, have largely rejected US appeals for them to isolate Russia.
Instead, the UAE and Saudis have sought to use the conflict to assert their independence on the global stage. By hosting the West's arch-enemy Putin in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, they are sending a very clear message.
"They are not taking orders from the United States, and the UAE and Saudi Arabia working very closely with Russia sends a message to Washington about the ways in which Abu Dhabi and Riyadh are conducting foreign policy in a less West-centric and much more multipolar world," said Cafiero.
But they are treading a fine line. While keen to assert their independence, they're wary of aggravating the US, whose military and economic might they depend on.
"Countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE will maintain opportunistic relations with Russia but will be careful that their economic ties with Moscow don't cross US sanctions, given how important their ties with Washington remain," said Graeme Thompson, an analyst with the Eurasia Group.
Saudi Arabia's ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, has also sought to act as a mediator between Ukraine and Russia, securing prisoner exchange deals, and even hosting peace talks last year which Russia did not attend.
It's an issue the crown prince will likely raise with Putin during the visit, as he seeks to burnish his reputation as a champion of nations with little interest in either US or Russian views of Ukraine.
"Most countries in the 'global south' are more interested in a peaceful resolution to the war, given its negative effects on food and energy prices, than on buying a particular narrative – either from Russia or the West," said Thompson.
Read the original article on Business Insider