As the war in Ukraine drags on, Dubai has emerged as a safe haven for wealthy Russians seeking to escape the effects of Western sanctions imposed after Russia’s invasion. An estimated 250,000 Russians have relocated to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) since the conflict began, with most settling in Dubai. This article is the first in a series aimed at revealing how Russia’s elite are sheltering money and assets in the UAE.
The draw is clear – beyond the glitzy hotels and luxury living, Dubai offers an open environment for Russians to continue doing business and maintain financial ties. The UAE has notably not enforced sanctions on Russia and maintains friendly political relations, as evidenced by Russian dictator Vladimir Putin choosing the UAE as one of the only countries he has visited since launching his invasion of Ukraine.
Up to 3,000 companies in the UAE are now Russian-owned. Key sectors include oil, gold, and so-called “dual-use” goods – products with both civilian and military applications. The UAE has sharply increased its Russian oil imports, with much of it flowing through the Fujairah terminal likely for re-export. Fujairah received no Russian oil in April 2022 but 141,000 barrels a day by December. Meanwhile, Russia became the top source of gold for the UAE in 2022 and 2023.
Dubai in particular has become a safe haven for Russian oligarchs and their money. Millionaire Russian elites have flocked to the glamorous city, snapping up luxury properties and docking their mega-yachts in Dubai’s marinas. Estimates indicate over $150 billion in Russian money has flowed into Dubai real estate. The city offers not just a lavish lifestyle but an established financial center for sanctioned oligarchs to shelter assets.
Western countries however are pressuring the UAE to halt exports of dual-use items to Russia. Following US, EU and UK lobbying, the UAE is considering requiring export licenses for semiconductors and microchips found in Russian weapons. This aligns with UAE efforts to move off an international financial watchdog’s money laundering “grey list.”
Yet the extensive business networks built over decades, and incentives to maintain ties, mean Russians in Dubai are there to stay. The city solidifies its reputation as a global hub bridging Europe and Asia, but now also as a lifeline for sanctioned Russian money. Even with some concessions, economic integration will likely only deepen as wealthy Russians flee to Dubai.
Written by Eagle