Russia sells weapons at Abu Dhabi arms fair in Ukraine war

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates — Russia offered weapons for sale at a biennial arms fair in the United Arab Emirates on Monday, from Kalashnikov assault rifles to missile systems – despite facing sanctions from the West over its war on Ukraine.

The event, known as the International Defense Exhibition and Conference and held in the United Arab Emirates capital of Abu Dhabi, highlights how the Gulf Arab Federation has sought to embrace Moscow while balancing its ties with the West.

As Friday approaches the first anniversary of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Russian money continues to flood Dubai’s real estate market.

As the war progresses, daily flights between the Emirates and Moscow continue, providing a rare lifeline for both those fleeing conscription and the Russian elite. The US Treasury Department has already expressed concern about the amount of Russian cash flowing into the Arabian Peninsula country.

At the arms fair, the Emirates typically host persons who are considered problematic in the West. Former Sudanese strongman Omar al-Bashir appeared in the 2017 edition. Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who is now deeply involved in the war in Ukraine, appeared in both 2019 and 2021.

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This year’s event featured Libya’s Khalifa Hifter, commander of the self-ruled Libyan National Army, who is being sued by the United States for indiscriminate attacks on civilians and torturing and killing political opponents.

But although this was not directly acknowledged at this year’s show, the tendrils of Russia’s war against Ukraine could be seen everywhere at Monday’s fair.

To reach the exhibition tent in Russia, fair attendees had to leave Abu Dhabi’s cavernous National Exhibition Center and cross a sky bridge to an open-air area.

Russian officials initially delayed Associated Press reporters from entering their tents without explanation because an event was taking place. About an hour later, AP reporters saw Denis Manturov, Russia’s Minister of Trade and Industry, coming out of the tent.

Manturov is sanctioned by both the US and the UK, with London describing him as “responsible for overseeing the Russian arms industry and equipping mobilized troops” in the Ukraine war.

Inside, a video screen advertised the power of Russian surface-to-air missile systems, like those now being used on cities in Ukraine. Vendors presented Kalashnikov assault rifles to the Emirati troops. Other rocket models also appeared at the exhibition.

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Right in front of the tent, Russian Helicopters displayed several of its civilian aircraft, flanked by attractive young women in silver 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. However, one Russian magazine printed an English-language edition of the arms fair showing photos of Sheikh Mohammed smiling and shaking hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a previous visit to Moscow.

In contrast, Baykar’s giant armed drone was parked next to the Russian tent. The drones of the Turkish drone company Bayraktar played such a key role in the campaign against Russia in Kiev that there is even a Ukrainian-language song about the aircraft.

A short walk away, US Army troops displayed a model of the Javelin anti-tank missile, allowing onlookers to fire it in a computer simulation.

US Army 1st Sgt. Evan Williams, 2-116 Cavalry Regiment said he and his soldiers talked to Russian visitors to the fair and others who were curious about the weapon that Ukraine used to have lethal effect against Russian armored vehicles.

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“You’ve seen people drive by and despair about it,” said Williams of Boise, Idaho. – They come to talk to us, they ask questions about it.

The US Army also presented a Patriot missile battery at the fair. In 2022, US forces used the battery in combat for the first time in decades to help defend Abu Dhabi against an attack by Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels.

Meanwhile, Israel was also able to see the first full arms manufacturing contingent since the United Arab Emirates diplomatically recognized the country in 2020. Both the leadership of Israel and the United Arab Emirates are deeply suspicious of Iran’s intentions, although the United Arab Emirates has tried to go easy on Tehran, which is now closer than ever to enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels.

Relations between Israel and the Emirates have warmed despite Israel continuing to build settlements for what Palestinians consider their future state and as Israeli-Palestinian violence escalates.


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