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Is Russia warming up to the Houthis?

Russia has recently raised its profile in the conflict in Yemen both by endorsing UN-led peace efforts and by re-engaging with the Houthis, with whom Moscow has a long and twisted relationship.
Houthi militants ride on the back of a truck as they withdraw, as part of a U.N.-sponsored peace agreement signed in Sweden earlier this month, from the Red Sea city of Hodeidah, Yemen December 29, 2018. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad - RC1B59795B50

On Jan. 9, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzia, praised UN efforts to end hostilities in Yemen and pledged Moscow’s support for peace negotiations that engage all warring parties in the conflict. While Nebenzia remained circumspect about the prospects for a swift breakthrough in the UN peace negotiations, his conciliatory attitude toward the talks reflected Russia’s support for dialogue between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebel forces.

Russia’s support for engaging Houthi rebels in multilateral diplomacy has been a consistent hallmark of its Yemen policy since the war’s inception in March 2015. In April 2015, Russia was the only nation on the UN Security Council to abstain from Resolution 2216, which called for an arms embargo against the Houthis and imposed a travel ban on the movement’s leader, Abdulmalik al-Houthi. While Russia ultimately removed its diplomatic personnel from Sanaa in December 2017 to demonstrate opposition to Houthi involvement in former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s assassination, Moscow has continued to oppose the Saudi-led coalition’s campaign to militarily vanquish the Houthis.

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