Russian billionaires and entrepreneurs have been arriving in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in unprecedented numbers. Property purchases in Dubai by Russians surged by 67% in the first three months of 2022, a report said.
The UAE has not put sanctions on Russia or criticised its invasion of Ukraine. It is also providing visas to non-sanctioned Russians while many Western countries have restricted them.
It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people have left Russia over the last two months, although exact figures are not available. One Russian economist said as many as 200,000 Russians had left in the first 10 days after the war began. Virtuzone, which helps companies to set up operations in Dubai, has seen a huge surge of Russian clients.
“We are receiving five times more enquiries from Russians since the war began,” said chief executive George Hojeige.
“They are worried about an economic meltdown that’s coming. That is why they are moving here to secure their wealth,” he added.
The influx of Russian nationals has bolstered demand for luxury villas and apartments across the city. Real estate agents are reporting a surge in property prices, as Russians arriving in Dubai are looking to purchase homes.
And another real estate agency, Modern Living, told the BBC it had hired many Russian-speaking agents to cater to rising demand. Chief executive Thiago Caldas said they were receiving numerous calls from Russian nationals looking to relocate to Dubai immediately.
“Russians who are coming down are not buying just for investment, they are looking at Dubai as a second home,” he said. Many multinational companies and Russian start-ups are also relocating their employees to the UAE.
Fuad Fatullev is the co-founder of WeWay, a blockchain technology company that had offices in Russia and Ukraine. After the war broke out, he and his partners shifted hundreds of employees to Dubai.
“The war had a massive impact on our operations. We couldn’t continue [as we were] as we had to move hundreds of people outside of Ukraine and Russia,” says Fuad, who is a Russian citizen.
He adds that they chose to shift their employees to the UAE as it offers a safe economic and political environment to operate a business.
He said Russian businesses were moving out as they were finding it incredibly difficult to operate due to sanctions. The challenge was even more acute for companies dealing with international clients and brands, as most western firms have severed ties with Russian-based enterprises, he said.
Global firms like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Google that have shut down offices in Russia, are also relocating some of their employees to Dubai.
“There is definitely a brain drain that is happening. A lot of people are leaving because there are a lot of business restrictions right now,” says Mr Fatulley.