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Areas of expansion of ties between Russia and UAE

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Farzad Ramezani Bonesh

Diplomatic relations between Russia and the United Arab Emirates began almost after the founding of the United Arab Emirates in December 1971. In January 1972, a delegation from the Soviet Union traveled to the UAE. So in 1985, Moscow and Abu Dhabi announced the beginning of bilateral relations at the embassy level.

After that the Soviet Union’s diplomatic mission opened in March 1986. A year later (in April 1987) the UAE Embassy opened in Moscow. The following article focuses on the expansion of Russia-UAE relations.

Geostrategic and military relations

Although the UAE has often been described as a US security partner in the Arabian Peninsula, Russia’s relations with the UAE have been strengthened significantly in recent years.

The shift in the US approach to the Middle East and the reduction of its military presence in this region (initiated by Barack Obama) provoked reactions from actors such as the UAE. Therefore, actors like the UAE hope to have more reliable partners than the United States. Russia, on the other hand, is trying to increase its strategic presence in the region.

In this regard, in the past few years, there have been continuous and joint talks in various fields of interest, and also strategic cooperation between the UAE and Russia and the two countries have been trying to explore new areas of cooperation.

In this regard, Russia and the United Arab Emirates signed a strategic cooperation agreement in 2018; an unprecedented agreement between Moscow and a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

In another dimension, Russia has not played a significant role in the UAE’s arms imports in the past, with the West accounting for 80 percent of arms supplements to the UAE. But the expanding of ties has led the UAE and Russia to cooperate in the military and defense fields (such as anti-tank missiles, Sukhoi fighters) and some other areas of space and security. In this regard, the Russian state space company recently launched the Emirati satellite into space.

Economic cooperation:

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, economic relations between the two countries were gradually developing. Previously, the UAE economy, like the Russian economy, suffered from dependence on oil market developments. But economic relations have grown in recent years in many areas, such as investment, trade, and tourism.

So that the trade volume between the two countries increased from $ 200 million to $ 3.7 billion between 2000 and 2019. In this regard, heading a delegation of ministers, business representatives and Russian officials, the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to the UAE, lead to the rapid expansion of relations between Russia and the United Arab Emirates. Russia and the UAE have the highest level of trade among the countries of the GCC members.

In Russia’s view, the UAE is an attractive trading hub, and none of the GCC members is as commercially important as the UAE.

The UAE has also invested in Russia’s energy, infrastructure, and other sectors. In the meantime, the financial and global markets and the Dubai Expo, the UAE’s investments in the Muslim regions of Russia, and the deepening of mutual economic cooperation are other opportunities that deepen Russia-UAE economic relations. 

UAE-Russia efforts to expand regional and international cooperation

In recent years, Abu Dhabi has assumed Russia’s role in the Middle East security structure even more important. Common concerns and similarity of interests have increased alignment between Russians and Emirati people in many regional crises and challenges.

On the one hand, although Russia is not along with some of the UAE’s drastic measures to curb political Islam, such as the siege of Qatar, Moscow and Abu Dhabi have taken almost identical approaches to extremism in Syria, Libya, and countering extremist Islam.

In this regard, seven years after the severance of diplomatic relations, the UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus in December 2018. The change in the UAE’s policy towards Syria, its approaching to Damascus and paving the way for Syria’s return to the Arab League took place with the encouragement of Russia. In this way, there is a possibility of more synergy on Syria between Abu Dhabi and Moscow. In this regard, Moscow hopes that Abu Dhabi will be an important partner, especially in the field of Syrian reconstruction.

In addition, Russia and the UAE have a relatively common view on the threats posed by Islamist insurgent groups in Libya and have supported Khalifa Haftar as a secular stronghold.

On the other hand, Moscow believes in creating conditions for dialogue in the Persian Gulf region and reducing tensions with Iran, and on the other hand, the UAE has tried to interact with Iran in line with Russia’s plan to mediate between Iran and the Arab countries. In this regard, the UAE has softened its position against Tehran.

Although Moscow has had a lot of influence in Yemen during the Cold War, now, with the help of the UAE, it can increase its position and influence in the Red Sea.  On the other hand, the UAE seems to believe that it can use the Russia’s influence to increase the position of Abu Dhabi and its allies in Yemen.

In addition, as Western countries continue to influence the Middle East, Moscow is forging deeper ties with the United Arab Emirates, along with other GCC countries and Iran, to strengthen Russia’s regional power.

Vision:

Despite previous strategic differences between Russia and the UAE over Iran, Qatar and Turkey, in recent years the extent of Moscow-Abu Dhabi convergence in opposing Islamic movements, preventing military escalation in the Persian Gulf, Turkey’s regional policy in the Eastern Mediterranean and Syria, Controlling the spread of political Islam and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, etc. has increased.

In the meantime, it seems that Russia-UAE relations will be strengthened in the coming years, apart from bilateral issues in global and regional matters, and the common view to the multipolar world. However, potential areas of disagreement could also slow the growth of the two countries’