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Sanctioned Russian oligarch’s megayacht hides in a UAE creek
1 June 2022, 08:14
The 387ft Motor Yacht A’s presence in a Ras al-Khaimah creek shows the UAE’s neutrality during Russia’s war on Ukraine.
One of the world’s largest yachts has been seen sitting in a quiet port in the northern most sheikhdom of the United Arab Emirates – so far avoiding the fate of other luxury vessels linked to sanctioned Russian oligarchs.
The 387ft Motor Yacht A’s presence in a Ras al-Khaimah creek shows the UAE’s neutrality during Russia’s war on Ukraine as the Gulf country remains a target for Russian money and its oil-rich capital sees Moscow as a crucial OPEC partner.
Since Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine on February 24, the seven sheikhdoms of the Emirates have offered a refuge for Russians, both those despairing of their country’s future as well as the mega-rich concerned about western sanctions.
While much of the world has piled sanctions on Russian institutions and allies of President Vladimir Putin, the Emirates has not.
It also avoids overt criticism of the war, which government read-outs still refer to as the “Ukraine crisis”.
The Motor Yacht A belongs to Andrey Melnichenko, an oligarch worth some 23.5 billion US dollars (£18.7 million), according to Forbes.
He once ran the fertiliser producer Eurochem and SUEK, one of the world’s largest coal companies.
The European Union in March included Mr Melnichenko in a mass list of sanctions on business leaders and others described as close to Mr Putin.
The EU sanctions noted he attended a meeting Mr Putin held on the day of his invasion.
“The fact that he was invited to attend this meeting shows that he is a member of the closest circle of Vladimir Putin and that he is supporting or implementing actions or policies which undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, as well as stability and security in Ukraine,” the EU said at the time.
Mr Melnichenko resigned from the corporate positions he held in the two major firms, according to statements from the companies.
However, he has criticised western sanctions and denied being close to Mr Putin.
Mr Melnichenko could not be reached for comment through his advisers.
Already, authorities in Italy have seized one of his ships — the 600 million dollar (£476 million) Sailing Yacht A.
France, Spain and Britain as well have sought to target superyachts tied to Russian oligarchs as part of a wider global effort to put pressure on Mr Putin and those close to him.
But the 300 million dollar (£238 million) Motor Yacht A so far appears untouched.
It flew an Emirati flag on Tuesday when Associated Press journalists observed the ship.
Two crew members milled around the deck.
The boat’s last recorded position on March 10 put it off the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, just over 1,860 miles from Ras al-Khaimah.
Satellite images from Planet Labs PBC analysed by the AP show the vessel in Ras al-Khaimah’s creek from March 17, a week later.
The Financial Times first reported on the ship’s presence in the UAE.
Authorities in Ras al-Khaimah did not respond to a request for comment on the yacht’s presence.
The UAE’s foreign ministry did not answer questions about the ship but said in a statement to the AP it takes “its role in protecting the integrity of the global financial system extremely seriously”.
But so far, the UAE has taken no such public action targeting Russia.
The country abstained on a UN Security Council vote in February condemning Russia’s invasion, angering Washington.
The neutral response may stem from “the financial gain we’re seeing in Dubai in terms of new tourist arrivals and Russian efforts to move assets and buy property”, said Karen Young, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.
The flow of Russian money — both legitimate and shady — is now an open secret in Dubai, where lavish hotels and beaches increasingly bustle with Russian speakers.
State-run radio hosts cheerily describe a massive influx.
The UAE became one of the few remaining flight corridors out of Moscow.
The Emirati government offered three-month multiple-entry visas upon arrival to all Russians, allowing major companies to easily transfer their employees from Moscow to Dubai.
The private jet terminal at Al Maktoum International at Dubai World Central has seen a 400% spike in traffic, the airport’s CEO recently told the AP.
Real estate agents have reported a surge of interest from Russians seeking to buy property in Dubai, particularly in the skyscrapers of Dubai Marina and villas on the Palm Jumeirah.
For those who want to move to the UAE, buying high-end property also helps secure a visa.
“Business is booming right now,” said Thiago Caldas, CEO of the Dubai-based property firm Modern Living, which now accepts cryptocurrency to facilitate sales with new Russian clients.
“They have a normal life and don’t face restrictions.”
Mr Caldas said inquiries from Russian clients in Dubai have multiplied by over 10 since the war, forcing his firm to hire three Russian-speaking agents to deal with the deluge.
With sanctions on Russian banks and businesses thwarting many citizens’ access to foreign capital, Russians are increasingly trying to bypass bank transfers through digital currencies in Dubai, said two cryptocurrency traders in the city, where they are able to liquidate large sums of cash.
“It’s a safe haven. … The inflow from Russian accounts skyrocketed 300% days after the war in Ukraine began,” said a Russian crypto trader in Dubai, who spoke like the other on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala state investment company remains among the most active sovereign wealth funds in Russia, along with those of China and Qatar, according to calculations by Javier Capapé of IE University in Spain for the AP.
But pressure is growing.
Late on Tuesday, the US embassy in Abu Dhabi posted a strongly worded video message in solidarity with Ukraine featuring local ambassadors from the world’s leading democracies as Russia’s foreign minister visits the region.
“We are united against Russia’s unjustifiable, unprovoked and illegal aggression,” said Ernst Peter Fischer, Germany’s ambassador to the UAE.