Time to sanction UAE for helping Russia circumvent West sanctions

The UAE, and in particular, Dubai, has a reputation for being a playground for the wealthy. And with the increased Western financial pressure on Russia, the UAE is an even more appealing prospect for wealthy Russians seeking a safe haven for their cash and undercutting efforts to persuade Russia to withdraw from its invasion of Ukraine.

Abu Dhabi has indicated that it is attempting to strike a balance between the United States and its European partners on the one hand, and Russia on the other.

The UAE, which already housed 40,000 Russian nationals prior to the war, abstained from a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine, indicating that the UAE values good relations with Vladimir Putin’s government over Western interests in Ukraine. It has also allegedly told Russia that it will not impose sanctions on it until obliged to do so by the UN, a situation that appears improbable given Russia’s veto power on the Security Council.

As the financial battle against Russia continues, Putin’s government has stated that the sanctions are equal to declaring “war.” Moscow is keeping track of which nations are supporting the West’s financial assault against Russia and which are not.

The UAE and several other Arab governments do not wish to sever ties with Moscow in reaction to the Ukraine conflict. These countries believe that keeping tight ties with Russia even after the war is over will best suit their national interests.

If Washington becomes further convinced that the UAE is facilitating Moscow’s foreign policy goals by assisting Russia in circumventing sanctions, the Biden administration will assess what steps it may take.

To put pressure on the UAE to sanction people in Putin’s inner circle, the US may warn Gulf banks and other financial institutions that doing business with them could result in sanctions or penalties. However, with the White House requesting Emirati assistance in oil production and other areas, it is unclear if the Biden administration would do so at this critical time.

UAE has gotten away with a lot of things, including significant human rights violations, horrors in Yemen, and questionable financial operations, which have apparently escaped the notice of successive US governments.

Relationships between the UAE and the US during Biden’s administration are not as warm as they were during Trump’s presidency, because countering Russian aggression has become the US government’s top foreign policy priority, it may well result in some extraordinary tensions.

Aside from the close ties between the US and the Emirati armed forces, the UAE has played an essential role in assisting the US trade balance by securing lucrative contracts with American arms manufacturers and other businesses.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) decision to place the UAE to a worldwide watch list for money laundering and terrorism funding earlier in March has pushed international banks to face increased compliance obligations, threatening the UAE’s position as a regional financial center and investment haven. To some extent, this might erode the country’s capacity to compete with Saudi Arabia for international investment and regional commerce.

It is reasonable to say that the UAE will continue to be a place that Russian oligarchs can rely on to keep their bank accounts open and their assets in their possession.

The UAE is unlikely to participate directly in Ukraine, but would instead back Russia by assisting its oligarchs and deep state behind Putin in circumventing sanctions.

Closer US military ties with the UAE raise major human rights concerns, which should be reason enough to withdraw US military assistance. However, cozying up to them jeopardizes US security interests in the Middle East. In defiance of a United Nations arms embargo, the UAE has given weaponry to Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s forces in Libya, as well as launched drone attacks that have killed hundreds of people. This irresponsible action by US-armed partners not only tarnishes the US’s reputation and influence in the Middle East, but it also threatens to draw us into new wars at a time when we should be rethinking our military presence in the area.

If the Biden administration intends to maintain or enhance military assistance to the UAE in exchange for increased oil output, Congress should object. It may do so by passing resolutions under the Campaign Powers Act that would stop US military backing for the Saudi and UAE forces, drawing the attention of both governments and contributing to the conclusion of their horrific war in Yemen.

These efforts should continue. At this time, embracing the UAE is the wrong thing to do. It is not justifiable to do so under the guise of mitigating the effects of Russian sanctions on the US economy, considering the damage they are causing, both to US interests and to the people of the Middle East.

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