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Russia 'can be good friends with GCC', former diplomat tells UAE

ABU DHABI // A former Russian diplomat said on Wednesday that dialogue was the key to strong international relations and that his country was capable of being good friends with GCC states and Iran.

Veniamin Popov, a former Russian ambassador to Yemen, Libya and Tunisia, said in Abu Dhabi that president Vladimir Putin wanted to see an end to all conflict in the Middle East and hoped to achieve this through “friendly relations with all states on equal grounds”.

He gave the example of Turkey, a country with which Russia’s relations broke down after the former shot down a Russian jet in November 2015 and the pair were on opposing sides in Syria.

“We even have friendly relations now with Turkey, which shot down one of our fighter planes and our ambassador was killed there,” Mr Popov said.

“Healthy dialogue with collective efforts is the only solution to stop conflicts in the region – that’s what Russia is doing.”

He was speaking at an Emirates Policy Centre-organised lecture entitled Russian Policy towards the Middle East.

Mr Popov also praised Russian relations with the GCC and Iran.

“Gulf states and Iran are our good friends. Sometimes relations turn sour due to circumstances but, again, we are friends. We want friendship with all nations,” he said.

“Our relations with Arab countries – particularly the GCC region – and Iran are based on mutual understanding and cooperation. Poor states lead to terrorist and extremist activities and we have lots of examples of that, like Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya.

“We don’t want any political disputes with GCC countries, we want stability and development in the region.

“All these conflicts can be resolved through dialogue but if the dialogue is not based on equal standards, it has no results.”

Turning to Syria, he said Russia had intervened in the country only at the invitation of president Bashar Al Assad.

“We have started the peaceful process in Astana and Geneva under the auspices of three countries – Russia, China and Iran – and we have succeeded, as there has been no big destruction [in Syria] as we had before.”

He also blamed the western media for portraying what he described as the wrong perspective on the region and of Russia – in respect of the latter, for allegedly interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, such as through the US election and Brexit.

“Blaming Russia for unfounded facts is wrong. I want to clarify: we don’t interfere in any state’s internal affairs,” he said.

Dr Wassim Khalil Kalaajieh, a specialist in Russian affairs and member of the Group of Strategic Vision – Russia-Islamic World, said: “Among the GCC countries, the UAE is the strongest contender for establishing peace in the region and it’s the most understanding nation.

“With the engagement of all parties in the Middle East and Russia in a very measured and strategic manner, the issues of the region can be resolved.

“The UAE has an important role to resolve Middle East conflicts in cooperation with Russia, due to its geographic location.”

The lecture’s moderator, Dr Ebtesam Al Ketbi, president of Emirates Policy Centre, said: “We have good relations and military cooperation with Russia and we have to further diversify it with other countries.

“Russia should bring all partners in the region for dialogue, including Iran, to resolve the issues and conflicts of the region. This is the way to resolve the ongoing fight in the region.”

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The National