Russia and the UAE see almost eye to eye on Syria. Both support fighting Islamists and both are against the alarming Turkish activity there, but most importantly, the UAE is currently not entirely opposed to a post-war Syria under Bashar al-Assad.
In 2018, the UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus, despite US objections, after its Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, said cutting Syria off from the Arab dialogue on the conflict would ultimately diminish the role of Arab states in settling civil unrest. The UAE also assured Russia that its pro-Assad stance would not hinder bilateral strategic relations.
Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, Russia has backed Bashar al-Assad and worked against Western powers who wanted him to step down. Turkey took a stance against Assad and helped build the Free Syrian Army, mainly formed from Syrian Army defectors, offering it a safe zone and a base for training. Erdogan’s government also facilitated the smuggling of terrorists across the Syrian border to fight alongside Isis, according to a report by Abdullah Bozkurt for the Investigative Journal.
In the light of the Turkish incursion in Syria, and against the backdrop of the US declaring its intent to withdraw its ground forces from the north of the country, the UAE knew Russia's role in the conflict would become even more influential regionally and that working with Putin would benefit the future peace process and regional security. Building bridges with Damascus could also pave the way for Emirati investments once peace is restored.
In June 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan signed the Declaration on Strategic Partnership between Russia and the United Arab Emirates at the Kremlin, "It will be another solid step aimed at strengthening our bilateral ties," Putin stressed.
Russia and the UAE agreed on the importance of working to restore peace in the Middle East without violating the sovereignty of states, “the sides are calling for the creation of a broad international coalition on the fight against terrorism and extremism that would be based on respect for the sovereignty of the states directly affected by terror attacks," the document says.
Similar to Russia’s current position, the UAE is not very fond of Turkey roaming freely in Syria. After the commencement of operation Olive Branch in 2018, where Turkish ground forces entered Afrin in Syria to attack Kurdish forces, Gargash warned against Arabs losing the primary roles in their own lands without a “contemporary understanding of Arab national security.”
A few months later in 2019, the UAE affirmed its sympathy for the Kurds with Gargash saying, “we have great sympathy for the Kurds… also for the Kurds in Iraq.”
At first Russia was for the Turkish military operation in Afrin but later stressed that the Assad forces must take control of the Kurdish-held regions in Syria.
On October 14th, the mostly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced their willingness to side with Assad and Putin as the only means of escape from Turkish aggression.