As the annual COP climate summit approaches in Dubai next month, one prominent figure conspicuously absent from past conferences may decide to attend COP28 – Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, there are good reasons why the ICC suspect feels comfortable enough to potentially skirt international justice and visit the UAE.
Some context – in March, the ICC issued arrest warrants against Putin and another official for war crimes in Ukraine, including deportation of civilians. As Russia’s commander-in-chief, Putin faces charges of both directly committing atrocities as well as failing to control subordinates responsible for them. This stern international response was expected to sideline Putin from global diplomacy.
Yet the warm embrace Putin continues receiving from the Emirati leadership indicates he has a safe haven to travel without fear of arrest. In recent years, Dubai’s real estate market has witnessed a significant surge in international investors, with Russian buyers taking the lead. The city’s attractive investment opportunities, coupled with geopolitical and economic factors, have made it a preferred safe haven for Russians seeking to diversify their portfolios. Russian investors have turned their attention to Dubai amid escalating tensions and sanctions at home.
Wealthy Russian buyers are now fueling surging property transactions, prices and rents in Dubai. In 2022, more than 86,000 residential sales transactions were recorded, surpassing the previous record set in 2009. The total value of property sold reached a staggering AED 208 billion ($56.6 billion), an astounding 80% increase from the previous year. Russians accounted for 72% of expat property purchases in the UAE. Developers responded to Russian demand by boosting the supply of new properties, creating a favorable market for off-plan investments where growth skyrocketed 86%.
Dubai now plays a pivotal role in facilitating Russian oil sales globally after spiking imports from $1.3 billion to over $17 billion since February. The customs data shows the UAE dominates this illicit trade. Emirati authorities have also turned a blind eye to Moscow’s usage of the notorious Wagner mercenary group on its behalf. As one of Wagner’s top patrons and financiers, the UAE has backed Russian-allied warlords like Khalifa Haftar in Libya through alleged coordination between Wagner operatives and Emirati airstrikes. This chilling kinship means the UAE directly enables Putin’s geopolitical ambitions.
After Russia launched its attack on Ukraine last year, Iran was one of a few countries to support Moscow’s position and goals. The two countries also shared a battlefield in Syria for years, helping prop up Bashar al Assad’s regime, with air strikes and boots on the ground.
But that close partnership is being tested. Recently, Russia inserted itself on the side of the UAE in an island dispute between Teheran and the Abu-Dhabi, triggering outrage in the Islamic Republic. Iran took control of the three small islands, Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb back in 1971 following the withdrawal of British forces in the region.
More telling is Putin’s personal rapport with UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed. When unrest emerged in Russia last June, the Emirati leader promptly vowed absolute loyalty to Putin over the phone. Their alliance was further cemented by opposing stances on territorial disputes involving Iran. With such robust bilateral cooperation spanning economics, security and diplomacy, it’s unthinkable the Gulf monarchy would disrupt its partnership by cooperating with international prosecutors.
In this dynamic political climate, Putin faces no credible threat to his freedom or security by attending COP28 on UAE soil. The Emirati shield of protection over Russia ensures he can flout the ICC process with impunity. If global powers wish to uphold international law and deter aggression, they must collectively challenge havens that place geopolitical self-interest over justice. Otherwise, war criminals will continue operating above the law.
Written by Eagle