Manchester City’s owner is assisting in the arrival of Russian tycoons in the UAE.
According to sources, while Sheikh Mansour has long been involved in cultivating UAE-Russia relations, the importance and complexities of his role have grown since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan is best known outside the United Arab Emirates as the owner of English football champion Manchester City He is deputy prime minister and a powerful member of the royal family in his home country.
But, according to several people familiar with Abu Dhabi’s engagement with Russians who requested anonymity because the information isn’t public, Sheikh Mansour also has a behind-the-scenes role that has become increasingly important in recent months: assisting in the management of relationships with wealthy Russians looking to move money into the UAE.
The importance and complexities of Sheikh Mansour’s position have grown since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to the people. Thousands of new financial restrictions have been imposed on Russia by the US, EU, and other countries, making it the world’s most sanctioned country.
The UAE has not imposed any. According to several people familiar with the UAE’s thinking, officials have taken the position that Abu Dhabi respects international law but is not required to follow measures implemented by specific countries and that the UAE has the right to adopt its own policies.
Israel and India, among other US allies, have taken a similar stance.
However, some Western officials are concerned about gaps in their own sanctions programs as a result of this approach.
In a call with UAE officials earlier this month, Deputy US Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo expressed Washington’s concerns about Russian tycoons moving assets to the UAE, according to two people familiar with the discussions.
Several sources said that senior government officials, wealthy businessmen, and finance executives from Russia are increasingly approaching Sheikh Mansour and his office for assistance in managing UAE government processes and that Russians have become more interested in investing in the Middle Eastern country since the invasion of Ukraine.
They said some are looking for penthouses in Dubai, while others want to buy luxury cars or need assistance opening bank accounts and financial firms.
According to the people, the Ministry of Presidential Affairs, led by Sheikh Mansour, has provided more assistance since the invasion.
According to several sources, UAE officials see Sheikh Mansour’s efforts as part of the government’s broader strategy to attract global business and maintain strategic ties with the East and West.
According to them, the Russia-UAE relationship is particularly important because of their cooperation within the OPEC+ alliance of oil-exporting countries.
Nonetheless, Sheikh Mansour’s continued efforts highlight the delicate balancing act that UAE officials are attempting to achieve. On the one hand, they want to keep allowing Russian money to flow freely, some from oligarchs, but the majority from ordinary citizens with no ties to the Kremlin. On the other hand, they’re wary of how this will be perceived by Western allies, who have stepped up sanctions against Vladimir Putin and a slew of Russian individuals and businesses.
“Our friends and allies are clashing,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, an Emirati academic based in the UAE. “We don’t want to offend Washington, but we’re also not going to bow down to them.” There are a lot of oligarchs with money in the West as well.”
The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment, and the Ministry of Presidential Affairs did not return calls seeking comment. Attempts to contact Sheikh Mansour through Manchester City and his offices failed. The US Treasury Department’s spokesperson declined to comment.
A spokesperson for the UAE’s Executive Office of Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing told Bloomberg earlier this year that the country will continue to work with foreign partners to better monitor international money flows.
Relations between the United Arab Emirates and the United States have recently deteriorated. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia want the United States to do more in Yemen to counter missile attacks by Iranian-backed Houthi fighters. Meanwhile, the two Gulf countries have so far turned down Washington’s requests to increase oil production and lower prices.
Disagreements over sanctions policy will continue to be a thorny topic, according to Jodi Vittori, a Georgetown University professor who studies the nexus of financial flows and US national security.
“If the world cracks down even more on illicit Russian flows, which are a foundation of these economies,” she said, “the United States may have to accept that they’ll have less leverage in these diplomatic relationships moving forward.”