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Russia’s rise to queen on the Middle East’s fractured chessboard

President Vladimir Putin’s royal welcome to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia this week underlines Russia’s growing economic and strategic interest in the region.

UAE and Russia

“We see the United Arab Emirates as one of our very close and promising partners,” Putin told news organization Al-Arabiya on Sunday ahead of his first state visit to the gulf kingdom in 12 years. “I have to say that, as is the case with Saudi Arabia, our partnership is vigorously developing in all areas.”

Energy was front and center in a host of deals on Tuesday, strengthening an already deep partnership.

Sources told CNN the partnership only continues to grow. Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund, Mubadala Investment Company, committed investments of around $6 billion in Russia on renewables, infrastructure, ports and airports and other sectors.

Peacemaker Putin

Beyond a burgeoning trading partner, it’s Russia’s increasing strategic influence that counts, analysts say. In a Gulf region simmering on the brink of conflict, there is potential for Putin to play peacemaker.

Fund for Political Research and Analysis Chairman Andrei Fedorov told CNN that “Russia is ready to play mediator … for us the main thing is now to prevent a military clash between Iran, Saudi Arabia, and United States because it will not be limited to a regional conflict. It will immediately involve Russia, the US, and many other countries.”

Russia’s footprint in Syria

President Putin’s victory lap of the Middle East comes against the backdrop of a new chapter in Syria’s more than eight-year war. Allied with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Russia has become the dominant foreign power operating in Syria since its entry in 2015 into what was its first military intervention in the Middle East since the end of the Cold War.

With Turkey advancing its offensive into northern Syria amid a US troop drawback, Russia’s big moment may have arrived.

Brokering a deal between the Assad government and Kurdish forces, Russian-backed Syrian soldiers are now swarming Kurdish-controlled northern Syria. This major shift in alliance came after President Donald Trump handed responsibility of the war-torn nation to other world leaders, saying the US was “7,000 miles away.”

Rising regional clout

In a bid to leave “forever wars,” Trump has effectively left the door of diplomatic responsibility wide open, ultimately providing a vacuum for Moscow’s growing clout. Russia, now seemingly rising as the new queen on the Middle East’s fractured chessboard.

CNN