© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks with his Latvian counterpart Krisjanis Karins (not pictured) during a meeting at Downing Street, in London, Britain, March 14, 2022. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/Pool
By Aziz El Yaakoubi and William James
RIYADH/LONDON (Reuters) -British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met the de facto leaders of Gulf oil exporters Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday on a visit aimed at securing oil supplies and raising pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukraine.
Johnson’s office said that in his meeting with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the British prime minister stressed the need to work together to stabilise global energy markets.
He then flew to Riyadh and met Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for talks which were also attended by the kingdom’s energy minister.
Britain, like much of the West, faces spiralling energy prices and Johnson is keen to encourage producers to increase output and secure other supplies to try to help consumers and reduce reliance on Russian exports.
So far Saudi Arabia and the UAE, whose close ties with Washington are under strain, have snubbed U.S. pleas to ramp up oil production to tame soaring crude prices that threaten global recession after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The world must wean itself off Russian hydrocarbons and starve Putin’s addiction to oil and gas,” Johnson said before his meetings. “Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are key international partners in that effort.”
The two Gulf states are among the few OPEC oil exporters with spare oil capacity to raise output and potentially offset supply losses from Russia. But they have tried to steer a neutral stance between Western allies and Moscow, their partner in an oil producers’ grouping known as OPEC+.
The group has been raising output gradually each month by 400,000 barrels a day, resisting pressure to act more quickly.
The UAE remains committed to the OPEC+ deal, a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters before the meeting.
The wealthy Gulf state has deepened ties with Moscow and Beijing in the last few years and abstained last month in a U.S.-drafted United Nations Security Council resolution to condemn the invasion of Ukraine, which Russia has described as a “special military operation”.
Johnson “set out his deep concerns about the chaos unleashed by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and stressed the importance of working together to improve stability in the global energy market”, his office said in a statement.
Johnson and the crown prince also agreed on the need to bolster security, defence and intelligence cooperation to counter threats including from Houthi forces who have fought a lengthy conflict in Yemen against Saudi and UAE forces.
Johnson is only the second major Western leader to visit Saudi Arabia since journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s 2018 killing by Saudi government agents in Istanbul.
His trip also comes four days after Saudi Arabia executed 81 men, the largest number in a single day for decades, for offences ranging from joining militant groups to holding “deviant beliefs”.
Asked about criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, Johnson said: “I’ve raised all those issues many, many times over the past … and I’ll raise them all again today.
“But we have long, long standing relationships with this part of the world and we need to recognise the very important relationship that we have … and not just in hydrocarbons.”
Saudi press agency SPA said Johnson and Prince Mohammed discussed the conflict in Ukraine and international issues, adding that Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a strategic partnership.
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UK’s Johnson calls for joint effort on energy market security in Gulf talks