At IFZA, one of the many free zones created to attract foreign investment, “the number of Russian entrepreneurs and start-ups has increased tenfold compared to last year”, says its executive director Jochen Knecht.

“It started with technology companies, software companies. Now we find all kinds of companies, art galleries, resellers, suppliers of spare parts”, he lists.

Companies “come with employees, rent offices, warehouses,” adds this expatriate in Dubai, one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.

Strangled by the economic sanctions imposed on Moscow, business leaders are seduced by the business and financial hub, with advantageous taxation, of Dubai, but also the neutrality displayed by the country vis-à-vis the Ukrainian conflict, believes Mr. Knecht.

“Russian investors are welcome”, he insists, in a country of nine million inhabitants with 90% foreigners, mostly low-skilled workers from Asia. Dubai is also seeking to attract investors in the midst of a post-Covid recovery.

A luxury tourist destination, Dubai, often accused of being a tax haven, has always been frequented by a wealthy Russian clientele, particularly interested in real estate.

Among them are oligarchs now sanctioned by Westerners, such as the former owner of the Chelsea club, Roman Abramovich, who visited homes in Dubai last March, according to the Bloomberg agency.

– “Continue their business” –

There are also “a lot of Russian celebrities, singers and actors who were already owners in Dubai, and who today want to live there”, testifies Valeria Zolotco, of the real estate agency AX Capital.

The emirate has become a fallback base, and not just for millionaires.

“We are seeing more and more SMEs, start-ups looking to move to be able to ensure the continuity of their business”, says Georges Hojeige, CEO of Virtugroup, which supports companies in their installation in Dubai.

Financial and trade sanctions against Russia impose major challenges on Russian companies, whether in terms of suppliers, customers, labor or logistics.

“We have to create a (new) infrastructure, we have the means, but it will also take time,” admitted the President of the Russian Central Bank Elvira Nabioullina before Parliament at the end of April. “Difficulties appear in all sectors,” she said.

Associated with the Russian law firm FTL Advisers, Daria Nevskaya, can testify to this. “Many of our clients have difficulty working with foreign countries,” she says, speaking of “ordinary”, unsanctioned companies seeking to establish themselves in “neutral jurisdictions”.

– “A normal person” –

The young woman herself decided to leave Moscow to open an office in Dubai. “I specialize in international law, and I think that soon there will be no more international projects in Russia,” she laments.

But for Ms Nevskaya, like many Russian citizens, starting a new life elsewhere is not easy.

With credit cards that don’t work overseas, intransigent banks, and Moscow’s restrictions on currency outflows, moving is an uphill battle.

Daria Nevskaya says she has been trying for more than a month to recover a sum of 5,000 euros transferred from Moscow to Dubai, but blocked by the correspondent bank based in Europe.

“I don’t find it fair, I’m not a sanctioned person but my money is frozen, I don’t have access to my money in Russia,” explains the lawyer. Due to the restrictions, Ms Nevskaya says, she was only able to take “$10,000 when she left”.

International sanctions particularly affect members of the affluent middle class, who, unlike the oligarchs, rarely have foreign passports or overseas accounts, Ms Nevskaya believes.

Dubai offers “business opportunities”, she continues, saying that she sees it as an “international city” without “anti-Russian sentiment”. “I don’t feel like a criminal here. I’m treated like a normal person.”