Russia & Global South

Dubaigrad: Is Moscow Now the Eighth Emirate?

June 17, 2024
  • Diana Galeeva

    Mohammed Bin Zayed University for Humanities, UAE
Diana Galeeva explores how the UAE has become a key strategic ally for Russia, while simultaneously maintaining a careful balance in its relations with Western nations.
In 2013, the British Prime minister and former mayor of London Boris Johnson described London as the “eighth emirate”. Can it be argued, in this period of rapid geopolitical transformations, that Moscow now has its own “Dubaigrad”? How have relations between Russia and the UAE been shaped over the last two years?

The seismic events of February 2022 have deeply changed this relationship, indicating a growing partnership, and a massive Russian diaspora now present in Dubai. The UAE joined the BRICS from January 1, 2024, a move which “is testament to the country’s balanced foreign policy” and its aims to build positive global multilateral collaborations. Currently, as the result of deepening relations to avoid Western sanctions, one potential direction of bilateral links for the Russian side is the search for new markets for arms exports.

As the other Gulf countries, the Emirates play a crucial role in overcoming the impact of economic sanctions imposed by the West, and instead of the expected 15% deficit, the effect of sanctions was only 7% in 2022. Thanks to OPEC+ deals in October 2022, and April, June, and December 2023, where Russia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE played a leading role, oil and gas revenues increased by 28% in 2022, and ensured an increase in Russia's GDP in 2023 by more than 27%. These countries are also key partners for diversifying bilateral trade: in 2022, bilateral trade between Russia and the UAE increased by 68% to $8.5 billion. In 2023, the UAE became the first Arab trade partner with whom trade was valued above $10 billion.

As noted by The New York Times, Dubai has become a “wartime harbor” for the Russian elite. In addition to “Londongrad”, the new term “Dubaigrad” has appeared as wealthy Russians fled, especially at the beginning of the war. For example, property purchases in Dubai by Russians surged up to 67% in the first three months of 2022 while property transactions in Dubai recorded a year-to-date high by the end of 2022. Russians transformed Dubai by opening cafes (such as Dodo Pizza and Angel Cakes), creating festivals and even sailing schools. Last year, Russian passport holders slipped to no.3, after Indian and British nationalities (already being so close to swap Londoners).

The UAE has emerged as a strategic “inner circle” ally of Russia, despite also carefully balancing relations with Western countries. As this piece illustrates, positive trends are being developed in the fields of diplomacy, economy, trade, military, defence, culture and educational links.
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