A sanctioned Russian oligarch’s superyacht hides in a UAE creek

387-foot yacht belonging to Russian oligarch
A yacht belonging to Russian oligarch Andrey Melnichenko sits anchored in the port of Ras al-Khaimah, United Arab Emirates.
(Kamran Jebreili / Associated Press)
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In the dusty, northernmost sheikhdom of the United Arab Emirates, where laborers cycle by rustic tea shops, one of the world’s largest yachts sits in a quiet port — so far avoiding the fate of other luxury vessels linked to sanctioned Russian oligarchs.

The display of lavish wealth is startling in one of the country’s poorest emirates, a 90-minute drive from the illuminated high-rises of Dubai. But the 387-foot Motor Yacht A’s presence in a Ras al-Khaimah creek also shows the United Arab Emirates’ neutrality during Russia’s war on Ukraine as the Persian Gulf country remains a magnet for Russian money and its oil-rich capital sees Moscow as a crucial OPEC partner.

Since Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, the seven sheikhdoms of the Emirates have offered a refuge for Russians, both those despairing of their country’s future as well as the mega-wealthy concerned about Western sanctions.


While much of the world has piled sanctions on Russian institutions and allies of President Vladimir Putin, the Emirates has not. It also avoids overt criticism of the war, which government readouts still refer to as the “Ukraine crisis.”

The Motor Yacht A belongs to Andrey Melnichenko, an oligarch worth about $23.5 billion, according to Forbes. He once ran the fertilizer producer Eurochem and coal giant SUEK.

The European Union in March included Melnichenko in a mass list of sanctions on business leaders and others described as close to Putin. The EU sanctions noted that he attended a Feb. 24 meeting Putin held on the day of the invasion.

A sanctions regime aimed at putting pressure on Russia’s wealthiest citizens has put a spotlight on the global mega-yacht trade.

March 3, 2022

“The fact that he was invited to attend this meeting shows that he is a member of the closest circle of Vladimir Putin and that he is supporting or implementing actions or policies which undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, as well as stability and security in Ukraine,” the EU said at the time.

Melnichenko resigned from the corporate positions he held in the two major firms, according to statements from the companies. However, he has criticized Western sanctions and denied being close to Putin.

The oligarch could not be reached for comment through his advisors.

Already, authorities in Italy have seized one of his ships — the $600-million Sailing Yacht A. France, Spain and Britain have sought to target superyachts tied to Russian oligarchs as part of a global effort to put pressure on Putin and those close to him.


The latest round of a legal battle over a $325-million Russian-owned superyacht has resulted in the case now appearing headed for Fiji’s high court.

May 27, 2022

But the $300-million Motor Yacht A so far appears untouched. It flew an Emirati flag Tuesday when Associated Press journalists observed the ship. Two crew members milled around the deck.

The boat’s last recorded position March 10 put it off the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, slightly more than 1,860 miles from Ras al-Khaimah. Satellite images from Planet Labs analyzed by the AP show the vessel in Ras al-Khaimah’s creek beginning March 17.

The Financial Times first reported on the ship’s presence in the Emirates.

Authorities in Ras al-Khaimah did not respond to a request for comment on the yacht’s presence. The Emirates’ Foreign Ministry did not answer questions about the ship, but said in a statement that it takes “its role in protecting the integrity of the global financial system extremely seriously.”

President Biden doesn’t want to just seize the yachts, luxury homes and other assets of Russian oligarchs, he wants to sell off the pricey goods and use the money to help rebuild Ukraine.

April 29, 2022

But so far, the Emirates has taken no such public action targeting Russia. The country abstained in a United Nations Security Council vote in February condemning Russia’s invasion, angering Washington.

The neutral response may stem from “the financial gain we’re seeing in Dubai in terms of new tourist arrivals, and Russian efforts to move assets and
buy property,” said Karen Young, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.

The flow of Russian money — both legitimate and shady — is now an open secret in Dubai, where lavish hotels and beaches increasingly bustle with Russian speakers.


The Emirates became one of the few remaining flight corridors out of Moscow. The Emirati government offered three-month multiple-entry visas upon arrival to all Russians, allowing major companies to easily transfer their employees from Moscow to Dubai. The private jet terminal at Al Maktoum International at Dubai World Central airport has seen a 400% spike in traffic, the airport’s chief executive recently told the AP.

Real estate agents have reported a surge of interest from Russians seeking to buy property in Dubai, particularly in the skyscrapers of Dubai Marina and villas on the Palm Jumeirah.

Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala state investment company remains among the most active sovereign wealth funds in Russia, along with those of China and Qatar, according to calculations for the AP by Javier Capapé of IE University in Spain.

But pressure is growing. Late Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi posted a strongly worded video message in solidarity with Ukraine featuring local ambassadors from the world’s leading democracies as Russia’s foreign minister visits the region.

“We are united against Russia’s unjustifiable, unprovoked and illegal aggression,” said Ernst Peter Fischer, Germany’s ambassador to the Emirates.