Russia has offered weapons for sale at a biennial arms fair in the United Arab Emirates, ranging from Kalashnikov assault rifles to missile systems — despite facing sanctions from the West over its war on Ukraine.
The sales pitch at the International Defence Exhibition and Conference, held in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi, underscores how the Gulf Arab federation has sought to embrace Moscow while balancing its ties to the West.
As Russia’s war on Ukraine approaches its first anniversary on Friday, Russian money continues to flood into Dubai’s property market.
Daily flights between the Emirates and Moscow continue as the war grinds on, providing a rare lifeline for those fleeing conscription and also the Russian elite.
The US Treasury has already expressed concerns about the amount of Russian cash flowing into the Arabian Peninsula country.
The arms fair typically sees the Emiratis host individuals who could be seen as problematic in the West. Former Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir attended the 2017 edition, and Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who is deeply involved in the Ukraine war, was there in 2019 and 2021.
This year’s event drew Libya’s Khalifa Hifter, the commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army who faces a US lawsuit accusing him of orchestrating indiscriminate attacks on civilians and torturing and killing political opponents.
While not directly acknowledged at this year’s show, the tendrils of Russia’s war on Ukraine could be seen everywhere at the fair on Monday.
To reach Russia’s exhibition tent, those attending the fair had to leave the cavernous National Exhibition Centre and cross along a skybridge to an outdoor area.
Russian officials delayed Associated Press journalists from going inside their tent as an event was going on, initially without explanation. About an hour later, AP journalists saw Denis Manturov, Russia’s minister of trade and industry, come out of the tent.
He is under sanctions by the US and the UK, with London describing him as “responsible for overseeing the Russian weapons industry and responsible for equipping mobilised troops” in the war on Ukraine. He described the ongoing war as providing advertising for Russian weaponry.
“Any military action is further accompanied by interest in those products, those weapons that are in demand in a given military conflict,” he said, according to the Tass news agency. “Therefore, certainly, interest is now high in air defence systems — short, medium and long-range ones.
“Each transaction is subject to close scrutiny from our western colleagues — they are trying to create obstacles; we ensure the security of such deals so that they are as effective as possible and implemented privately.”
Emirati officials did not directly acknowledge Mr Manturov’s presence.
Inside the Russian tent, a video screen proclaimed the power of Moscow’s surface-to-air missile systems, like those being used to strike cities in Ukraine. Salesmen showed off Kalashnikov assault rifles to Emirati troops, and other model missiles sat on display.
Just outside the tent, the Russian Helicopters firm displayed several of its civilian aircraft, flanked by attractive young women in silver flight caps.
UAE leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was not seen at the opening, which was attended by his brother, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, but one Russian magazine at the arms fair printed an English edition that carried photos of Sheikh Mohammed smiling and shaking Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hand during an earlier visit to Moscow.
In contrast, a giant armed drone made by Baykar was parked next to the Russian tent. The Turkish company’s Bayraktar drones have played such a key role in Kyiv’s campaign against Russia there is even a song in Ukrainian about the craft.