Rich Russians fleeing sanctions are pumping up Dubai’s property sector


Dubai is seeing its hottest real estate market in years, with sales in the sector up 45% year on year in April and 51% in May, according to the Dubai Land Department.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The team at Dubai property firm Mira Estate have reason to celebrate. 

The luxury real estate company just clocked a 100% year-on-year increase in sales to buyers from Russia and other former Soviet states in the first half of 2022.

Property sales to these nationals for the firm, which specializes in Russian-speaking clients, doubled year on year to 2 billion dirhams, or $500 million, according to a company press release issued this week. 

In a swanky Dubai nightclub in May, Russian real estate agents from another brokerage popped bottles of champagne to celebrate making record commissions on sales to fellow citizens buying their first homes in the desert oasis. One saleswoman raked in 4 million dirhams in commission in just three months, according to her colleague, who spoke to CNBC anonymously in light of professional restrictions. 

And billionaire oligarch Roman Abramovich, former owner of Chelsea football club and longtime associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is reportedly house-hunting on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah, the iconic man-made archipelago of artificial islands designed to look like a palm tree. The tycoon’s private jet, worth $350 million, has been grounded in the emirate for some four months after the U.S. Justice Department authorized its seizure.

Billionaire oligarch Roman Abramovich, former owner of Chelsea football club and longtime associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is reportedly house-hunting on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah, the iconic man-made archipelago of artificial islands designed to look like a palm tree.

Haider Yousuf | Herrara | Getty Images

The influx of buyers from Russia — as well as from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a group of nine former Soviet countries spanning Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia — has pumped up the United Arab Emirates’ property sector in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent Western sanctions. 

While numerous countries imposed sanctions and asset seizures on wealthy Russians and figures linked to Putin, causing many to lose their multimillion dollar properties in cities like London and Paris, the UAE has remained open for business.

“The war in Ukraine and the impact of sanctions on Russian-speaking individuals and their establishments have led wealthy CIS investors to flee their countries and find a haven in Dubai,” Mira Estate CEO Tamara Getigezheva said in her company’s release.

“CIS billionaires and entrepreneurs have been flocking to the UAE in record numbers, leading to a surge in demand for real estate. Most homebuyers are looking for ready units and waterfront properties.”

The swimming pool of a luxury villa for sale on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah, on May 19, 2021.

GIUSEPPE CACACE | AFP via Getty Images

Indeed, Dubai is seeing its hottest real estate market in years, with sales in the sector up 45% year on year in April and 51% in May, according to the Dubai Land Department.

Following a steep dive at the start of the pandemic, the UAE’s glitzy commercial hub saw a steady recovery after it adopted a more relaxed approach to the Covid-19 pandemic as other markets were still imposing heavy restrictions. The UAE opened up new visa opportunities for long-term residents and remote workers, signed a historic normalization deal with Israel, liberalized some of its social rules, and switched from its Islamic Friday-Saturday weekend to the Saturday-Sunday one.  

But the decision to stay neutral as much of the wealthy world shut its doors to Russians following Putin’s brutal invasion of its neighbor in late February has paid off particularly well for the UAE, whose 90% expat population, tax haven status and reputation for financial secrecy make it highly attractive to many of the world’s high-net-worth individuals.

Destination for the ultra rich

Villas on the water

‘Dirty money’ accusations

UAE authorities have pledged to tackle illicit money flows, as the country steps up its reforms in an effort to meet international standards.

In the meantime, its economy is booming.

“I’m sure a lot of Russians are trying to fix their problems and their issues, but Dubai will benefit ultimately from any crisis,” Emirati property magnate Hussain Sajwani told CNBC in an interview in mid-March.

“I’ll be honest with you, these sanctions … they made a lot of people nervous,” Sajwani said at the time. “If anyone brings money through the banking system here legally and professionally, we’ll do business with them.”



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