Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

Vladimir Putin's UAE visit shows he means business, say Russian experts

Russian residents say they feel closer to the UAE than some European countries

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, hosts a reception for Russian President Vladimir Putin, during a state visit, at Qasr Al Watan. Hamad Al Kaabi / Ministry of Presidential Affairs 
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, hosts a reception for Russian President Vladimir Putin, during a state visit, at Qasr Al Watan. Hamad Al Kaabi / Ministry of Presidential Affairs 

Russian residents of the UAE said talk of deepening ties between Moscow and the UAE was more than diplomatic pleasantries.

They said they saw the state visit by President Vladimir Putin as a major development in the relationship between the two countries, and they expect the growth in tourism and business links to accelerate as a result.

There is an appetite in Russia to explore new markets, they said, with Mr Putin’s UAE trip attracting significant media interest in his home country.

“I think it’s a historic visit,” said Natalia Remmer, editor-in-chief of Business Emirates magazine, the only Russian language business publication in the Middle East.

“The Russian president doesn’t just visit any country and he has a heavy schedule, so this shows this is seen as really important for international relations.”

The visit, she said, had attracted a lot of interest in Russia, with a pool of journalists travelling with the President and sending news of his every movement back home.

“There is a lot of co-operation with the Middle East,” she said. “There is also a Russian cultural festival taking place, so we feel very close to the UAE. We feel closer than this region than we are with Europe. Russia has a big Muslim population too. We see the Arab people as our brothers.”

Tourism between the countries has risen dramatically over recent years, following an overhaul to visa rules. Russian tourists are granted a free 30-day visa on arrival in the UAE, which can be extended for a further month in exchange for a fee. Almost one million Russian tourists visited the UAE last year, Ms Remmer said, a rise of around 20 per cent on 2016.

The numbers are expected to rise again this year, with hundreds visiting Abu Dhabi in September alone for the UFC 242 event, where Khabib Nurmagomedov, the popular Russian cage fighter, defended his world championship.

“Russians living here are mostly proud and happy to see the President visit,” said Ms Remmer, 35, who is originally from Saint Petersburg. “There are Russians working in every sector here, and many are now being promoted to senior positions. There are more than 100 flights every week between the UAE and Russia and new routes are opening up all the time.”

New business opportunities in the Middle East are particularly welcome due to the economic sanctions from the West. New agreements in aviation, energy and the environment were sealed on Mr Putin’s short state visit to the UAE.

“During these visits there are often a lot of contracts signed, so Russians here have been interested in what these would be,” said Natalia Shutilo, 40, a business consultant who has lived in the UAE for 11 years. “It’s definitely a sign that the relationship between the countries are growing and that there will be more and more collaboration.

“Russia is an interesting place for UAE citizens to visit and there is a lot of travel to this country too, especially since the visa changes. The UAE has done a lot to promote the country as a safe and secure place for Russians, and the success they have achieved over the last 10 years or so has been really impressive.”

Updated: October 15, 2019 09:48 PM

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