“Dubai is much more free — in every way,” he said, sporting an intricately torn designer T-shirt at a cafe he just opened in the city, where his children are now in a British school. “We are independent of Russia,” he said. “This is very important.”
A year into a historic onslaught of economic sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s rich are still rich. And in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates’ biggest city, they have found their wartime harbor.
Among the city’s waterfront walkways, palatial shopping malls, and suburban cul-de-sacs, Russian is becoming a lingua franca. Oligarchs mingle in exclusive resorts. Restaurateurs from Moscow and St. Petersburg race to open there. Entrepreneurs like Tutkov are running their Russian businesses from Dubai, and opening up new ones.
Where war feels far awayDubai’s new Russian diaspora spans a spectrum that includes multibillionaires who have been punished with sanctions and middle-class tech workers who fled President Vladimir Putin’s draft. But to some extent, they share the same reasons for being in the Emirates: It has maintained direct flights to Russia, staked out neutral ground on the war in Ukraine, and, they say, displays none of the hostility toward Russians that they perceive in Europe.
“Why do business somewhere that they’re not friendly to you?” said Tamara Bigaeva, who recently opened a two-story outpost of a Russian beauty clinic that is already welcoming longtime clients. “In Europe, they clearly don’t want to see us.”
Indeed, a major draw of Dubai is that it is apolitical, according to interviews with Russians who have settled there. Unlike in Western Europe, there are no Ukrainian flags displayed in public and no rallies of solidarity. The war itself feels far away. Anyone in Dubai harboring anti-Russian sentiments would most likely keep them to themselves, anyway; protests in the Emirates’ authoritarian monarchy are effectively illegal, and freedom of assembly is severely limited.
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