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  • Writer's pictureLeah Tyler

The UAE's Role and its Importance in World Politics Following the Griner-Bout Swap

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

The United States has recently made a trade with long-time adversary Russia, a move that has shocked the world. Despite the immense controversy surrounding the Brittney Griner/Viktor Bout prisoner exchange, this deal has significantly impacted all parties involved, including lead mediators: The United Arab Emirates. The UAE is looking to solidify its importance in the Middle East and on the world stage with its strategic mediation position.

Inside the Confusing exchange

Few might have known about Brittney Griner - a Women's National Basketball Association player - if it wasn't for her politically motivated arrest in Russia. Griner was in Russia playing for a Russian basketball team during her off-season. While returning to Russia in February 2021, she was caught by airport security with a single gram of cannabis oil in a vape cartridge; something she says was in her bag because she was in a rush to pack the night before her journey (Walsh, 2022). "Griner gained significance to Americans - based on her claims of innocence and her blatant seizure as a geopolitical pawn on the eve of Russia's invasion of Ukraine" (Walsh, 2022). Following six months in Russian detention, Griner was sentenced to 9 years. During this time, she was incarcerated in a Russian Penal Colony on drug-related charges (Luscombe, 2022)

Viktor Bout, on the other hand, is a Russian arms dealer who was given the nickname "The Merchant of Death" due to his reputation for prolonging wars across Africa and the Middle East (Walsh, 2022). His alleged ties to Al Qaeda and rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo are not the reasons he ended up in Unites States Prison. The Drug Enforcement Administration busted him in a sting operation in 2008 when two agents playing as Colombian militants approached Bout to purchase arms for a terrorist attack in the United States (Walsh, 2022). He received a 25-year sentence after being found guilty of conspiring to kill Americans with a terrorist group. While much of the information concerning these two former inmates are already widely known, few know the mediation procedure or which nation is in charge of the uneven exchange.

The UAE as a conflict mediator

It is safe to say that the UAE is known for many things: lavish lifestyles, an impressive ex-pat population, and the tallest building in the world. Now they are using their position in the world for a new purpose: mediation efforts between two world superpowers. Since 2021, the UAE has improved its mediation laws starting with Civil and Commercial disputes and now carrying over to international disputes (Eslick, 2021). In April 2021, the UAE adopted new laws to provide a robust framework for mediation within the country. This law follows a global trend in terms of regulation to encourage lawful mediation (Eslick, 2021). According to the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the Ministry aims to create an understanding between nations and people through dialogue, education, and cultural exchange (MoFAIC). Its steps toward improving mutual respect, international collaboration, and global prosperity have not gone unnoticed due to its recent mediation efforts.

Both the UAE's president, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Mahyan, and Crowned Prince of Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz al Saud, who assisted in negotiation efforts, had very positive things to say about the negotiation process. They commented on the success of mediation efforts praising both the United States and Russia on their cooperation and response to all options. They also state that their "mutual and solid friendship" with each country played a huge role in the success of the negotiations (Gulf Today, 2022).

The UAE’s relationship with the United States and Russia

It is no secret that the United States and Russia have lived in turmoil, arguably since the cold war (Walsh, 2022). Both nations have taken steps to upset different countries and found new allies in a struggle for world domination. The US and UAE have always enjoyed a friendly relationship characterized by bilateral trade and counter-terrorism efforts. US-UAE relations have taken a hit recently due to the "pivot East" where the United States has redirected its focus away from the Middle East and toward Asia by reducing arms sales diplomatic relations (Michele, 2022). This pivot follows the US's desire to keep a stronghold on the world's economy and away from China. In response to this pivot, a rebalancing effort has forced the UAE to stray away from US protection and facilitate its regional power (Michele, 2022). While the UAE is a long-time ally of the US, they have recently formed a new allyship with the Russian Federation.

In an attempt to strengthen its allyship with other countries, the UAE has turned to Russia, another superpower. In October 2022, Presidnt Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan met with President Vladimir Putin to discuss reducing oil production and strengthening diplomatic ties. Following the meeting, Putin reiterated that the newfound relationship was an "important factor of stability" and that he was working towards "strengthening the foundations of global peace a security" (Al Jazeera, 2022).

While many might see this growing relationship as negative for the United States, the prisoner exchange proves that the UAE can remain neutral during a stressful time in world politics. This exchange is significant not just for world security but also for the Middle East to prove its significance worldwide and should be taken seriously in politics. A successful prisoner swap between two adversary countries also proves that nuclear powers can resolve politically related issues even with an ongoing war.

About the Writer

Leah Tyler is a recent graduate from the University of Colorado Boulder. She graduated with a Major in International Affairs, a minor in Political Science and a certificate in Peace, Conflict, and Security Studies. She spent part of her time studying sustainable development as well as politics and religious and ethnics divides across the Middle East and Africa.

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1 Comment

Jan 05, 2023

This is some interesting information. I appreciate the writing and enjoyed the article! Hope to see more from this author.

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