EU Chief Presses UAE President on Russia Sanctions Evasion

The European Union’s top official was expected to increase pressure on the United Arab Emirates to clamp down on the export of sanctioned goods to Russia.

(Bloomberg) — The European Union’s top official was expected to increase pressure on the United Arab Emirates to clamp down on the export of sanctioned goods to Russia.

Ursula von der Leyen met UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, describing the talks as “excellent.”

She was due to ramp up demands that the UAE stops being a gateway for Russia to get around EU sanctions triggered by the invasion of Ukraine, according to people familiar with her plans.

The UAE is one several countries that have seen a surge in imports of technology such as semi-conductors and advanced electronics from Europe and the US over the past 18 months. Ukraine’s allies have banned many of them from being sent to Russia in case they’re used for military purposes.

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The UAE has become a key destination for Russian tourists, business people and those leaving their country since the invasion in February last year. Russian investment in Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s property markets has soared.

The UAE didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from Bloomberg. It has not sanctioned Russia but has consistently said it adheres to agreements with partners such as the US.

Von der Leyen, who’s president of the European Commission, was set to ask Sheikh Mohammed, known as MBZ, to be more cooperative and constructive when it comes to tackling the issue, according to the people.

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The EU would like the UAE to commit to sharing more of its trade data as an initial step, the people said. The topic has already been raised by the EU’s sanctions envoy, who recently visited the country, the people added.

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Between February 2022 and June 2023, the European Union exported $1.8 billion worth of sanctioned goods with battlefield applications to the UAE, according to the Geneva-based Trade Data Monitor. That marks a 55% increase from the previous 17-month period for exports of semiconductors, radio navigation devices and other goods that Russia needs to power its missiles, drones and other weapons systems.

The EU’s priority has been cracking down on a list of around three dozen so-called battlefield items that have been found in Russian weapons in Ukraine or are essential to their production.

The bloc thinks the UAE’s response so far has been disappointing, said the people. The EU is also keen to ensure the UAE isn’t used as a channel for banned Russian goods to find their way into Europe, the people added.

The EU has already sanctioned several entities registered in the UAE, accusing them of directly supporting Russia’s war machine. The bloc adopted a new tool in June that will allow member states to ban the export of key goods to companies, and eventually countries, seen as helping Russia get around sanctions. The tool would likely be implemented if diplomatic efforts fail.

Von der Leyen and MBZ were also expected to discuss actions to address climate change and energy, as well as trade relations, the people said.

Both leaders will travel to India later this week for the Group of 20 Summit. Dubai, the biggest city in the UAE, is hosting the COP28 climate summit later this year.

–With assistance from Abeer Abu Omar.

(Updates with confirmation of the meeting.)

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