The UAE Is Not Our Friend

The UAE Is Not Our Friend

Let me say this from the outset, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is no friend of mine. It was there that I was arrested in 2018 on baseless allegations that I was spying for my country, the UK, and there that I was tortured and sentenced to life imprisonment (an experience suffered by innumerable other foreigners and Emiratis alike.)  

But while there is a personal element to my views, the UAE’s atrocious behavior extends far beyond my case and into other realms more important to the US and its democratic allies, especially since it affects Ukraine’s war of national survival.

The UAE supports Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, using techniques developed to help another pariah, the Iranian theocracy. Although it has traditionally seen Iran as a threat, it is also a major trading partner, and the UAE has become a significant outlet for sanctioned Iranian oil exports to China. 

So what’s the evidence of UAE complicity? The strongest hint comes from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which monitors global money laundering and terrorist financing. It added the UAE to its gray list of enhanced monitoring last year, and while officials say it is making progress, it clearly still has a long way to go. 

And the proof of that comes from the parade of senior US officials, from the vice president downwards, arriving to make clear continuing concerns regarding “evasion of US sanctions, particularly on Russia and Iran.” A UAE air company was sanctioned by the US in November for allegedly “facilitating the transfer” of Iranian drones to Russia. Another air firm was sanctioned in January by the US for moving personnel and equipment for the quasi-official Wagner mercenary group between its bloody operations in Africa. The US calls the group “a significant transnational criminal organization.”  

It might seem extraordinary that UAE businesses are alleged to have such close links to two such visible elements of Russia’s bloody war in Ukraine, but this is far from the only concern. 

More significant is the influx of Russian businesspeople, companies, and assets being used to operate beyond Western sanctions. Russian oligarchs’ yachts are tied up in the UAE and their private jets sit on the runways.  

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