Outside the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan is best known as the owner of English football champion Manchester City. At home, he is deputy prime minister and a powerful member of the royal family.
But Sheikh Mansour also plays a behind-the-scenes role that has become increasingly important in recent months: helping manage companies that want to move money to the UAE, according to several people familiar with Abu Dhabi’s dealings with the Russians. Rich Russian ties, they requested anonymity. Information is not public.
While Sheikh Mansour has long been committed to fostering ties between the UAE and Russia, the stance has grown in importance and complexity since Russia invaded Ukraine, the people said.
While the United States, the European Union and other countries have imposed thousands of new financial restrictions on Russia, making it the world’s most sanctioned country, the UAE has imposed no measures. Several people familiar with their thinking said officials in the Middle East countries took the position that Abu Dhabi respected international law but was not required to follow measures imposed by a particular country, and the UAE was entitled to its own policies.
Other U.S. allies, including Israel and India, have taken similar positions.
However, the practice has sparked concerns among some Western officials, who are concerned about loopholes in their sanctions plans. Earlier this month, U.S. Treasury Undersecretary Wally Adeyemo expressed Washington’s concerns about Russian tycoons moving assets to the UAE during a conference call with Emirati officials, two people familiar with the matter said.
Senior government officials, wealthy businessmen and financial executives from Russia are increasingly turning to Sheikh Mansour and his office for help in managing UAE government processes, some said, adding that since invading the Middle Eastern country, Russians have become more interested in investing in the Middle East. There is growing interest from Middle Eastern countries. Ukraine.
Some are buying penthouses in Dubai, while others want to buy luxury cars or need help opening bank accounts and financial firms, they said.
The Ministry of Presidential Affairs, led by Sheikh Mansour, has provided more aid since the invasion, the people said.
Emirati officials see Sheikh Mansour’s efforts as part of the government’s broader strategy to attract global businesses and maintain strategic ties between East and West, according to several people familiar with the matter.
They said Russia’s relationship with the UAE was particularly important given Russia’s cooperation with the UAE within the OPEC+ alliance of oil exporters.
Still, Sheikh Mansour’s continued work is a testament to the delicate balance Emirati officials are trying to achieve. On the one hand, they want to continue to welcome the influx of Russian money, some from tycoons but a large part from ordinary citizens not affiliated with the Kremlin. On the other hand, they are sensitive to the views of Western allies, which have stepped up sanctions on Vladimir Putin and Russian individuals and companies.
“There is this conflict between our friends and allies,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, an Emirati academic based in the UAE. “We don’t want to go out of our way to anger Washington, but we won’t bow to them. There are also many oligarchs investing in the West.”
The Ministry of Presidential Affairs did not return calls seeking comment, and the UAE’s foreign ministry declined to comment. Efforts to contact Sheikh Mansour through Manchester City and his office have been unsuccessful. A spokesman for the U.S. Treasury Department declined to comment.
Earlier this year, a spokesperson for the UAE’s Executive Office for Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism told Bloomberg that the country will continue to work more closely with foreign partners on monitoring international financial flows.
Sheikh Mansour, 51, the brother of the UAE’s de facto ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and national security adviser Sheikh Tanu bin Zayed, is one of the country’s most powerful royals. Before the invasion of Ukraine, he accompanied MBZ to various meetings with Russian companies. He was also present when MBZ met Putin in Abu Dhabi in 2019.
The MBZ remains the ultimate authority on high-level diplomatic relations with Putin and Russia, the people said.
Sheikh Mansour, a billionaire in his own right, is the chairman of the UAE Central Bank. He also sits on the boards of other companies, including state oil giant Adnoc and the sovereign wealth fund Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, which oversees more than $800 billion, according to data compiled by Global SWF.
At home, he is a patron of track and field, supporting popular events ranging from football to horse and distance running. Since he took charge of Manchester City in 2008, the club has risen again, winning a string of trophies and becoming one of the most valuable football teams in the world.
Russians ranked fourth among Dubai tourists in the first two months of 2022 with around 137,000 arrivals, albeit below pre-pandemic levels but more than double the previous year, according to Dubai government data.
Some Emiratis, including Khaldoon Al Mubarak, chief executive of sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Co. and Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to Washington, have tried to reassure U.S. and U.K. and European officials despite the delay in imposing sanctions on Russia.
At a financial conference in Dubai last month, Almubarak said Mubadala, who has significant U.S. exposure, would avoid investing in Russia for now, becoming the first Middle Eastern wealth fund boss to comment publicly on the war. The move is purely commercial and should not be viewed as a political decision, according to people familiar with the matter.
Mubadala, of which Sheikh Mansour is vice-chairman, said in an emailed statement that it had suspended any further investment in Russia “in light of the circumstances,” without giving further details.
Still, Western officials welcomed Mubadala’s comments as a sign that the UAE was concerned about secondary sanctions on anyone doing business with sanctioned Russian entities, some of the people said.
“The U.S. government has put illicit financial watchers on high alert and told the UAE they are watching closely, not wanting to trick anyone, more to prevent this from happening,” said Kirsten Fonten, senior director for Gulf affairs at NOC at the White House Ross said. Security Council during the Trump Administration.
The UAE will benefit from its more welcoming attitude towards Russian money, but it has come under scrutiny in the past for inflows linked to individuals sanctioned by other countries. Since the Financial Action Task Force, the Paris-based global anti-money laundering agency, put the country on a “grey list” in March, pressure has mounted on the government for not being strict enough. to monitor the flow of funds into the country.
Relations between the UAE and the US have deteriorated recently. The UAE and Saudi Arabia want the U.S. to do more to respond to a missile attack by Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen. Meanwhile, the two Gulf states have so far rejected Washington’s demands to boost oil production and lower prices.
Differences over sanctions policy will remain a thorny topic, said Jodi Vittori, a Georgetown University professor who studies the relationship between financial flows and U.S. national security.
“If the world cracks down further on Russian illicit flows, which are the foundation of these economies, the U.S. may have to accept that they will have less and less influence in these foreign relations,” she said.
– With assistance from Abeer Abu Omar, Jennifer Jacobs, Nick Wadhams and Daniel Flatley.