The New Geography of the Russian Elite

They call it “Dubaisk.”

After the Russian invasion, the threat of closing borders, international sanctions and imprisonment drove tens of thousands to flee Russia.

Journalists, activists and tech workers flocked to Armenia, Georgia and Turkey — relatively affordable, nearby countries that allow Russians to enter without visas. In Europe, countries like Germany and Latvia took in Russians fearing persecution at home.

But another cohort of Russians — including business tycoons and celebrities — made Dubai, the biggest city on the Persian Gulf, their main destination.

Before the invasion, only 3 percent of private flights departing Russia flew the United Arab Emirates, primarily to Dubai, according to a Times analysis of thousands of records from RadarBox.com, a flight tracking company. That figure rose to 6 percent in the weeks after the invasion began, and 14 percent by May.






European cities were favorite destinations for Russian private jets before the invasion…

…but were replaced in the weeks after by locations in Central Asia and the Middle East.

European cities were favorite destinations for Russian private jets before the invasion…

…but were replaced in the weeks after by locations in Central Asia and the Middle East.

European cities were favorite destinations for Russian private jets before the invasion…

…but were replaced in the weeks after by locations in Central Asia and the Middle East.


Note: Percentage of total flights departing Russia from Feb. 1 to March 15. Sanctions on individuals started on Feb. 25 and a ban on airspace on Feb. 27.

The records provide striking evidence that Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine have succeeded in drastically changing the lives and habits of the Russian elite. The analysis captures both privately owned jets and jets leased by commercial companies, although the flight patterns suggest most of the jets are privately owned.

Before the invasion on Feb. 24, even amid the deep freeze in relations between Russia and the West, luxury European playgrounds in UK, France and Switzerland offered havens for Russia’s superrich. But now, with European airspace closed to Russian jets, and European countries seizing the assets of Russian oligarchs, the days of flying to Geneva for a weekend shopping trip appear to be over.

Instead, a wartime geography of the reach of Russia’s wealthy emerges in flight patterns analyzed by The Times. Kazakhstan and Turkeycountries that did not join sanctions against Russia and that have provided a home for Russian businesses leaving the country, have become leading destinations. Azerbaijana former Soviet republic that still nurtures close ties to both Russia and Ukraine, has also benefited from increased private jet travel.

But no country has seen as big a jump in wealthy Russian travelers as the united arab emirateswhere the resort and financial center of Dubai has emerged as the main hub connecting Moscow to the luxury and business opportunities still on offer from the rest of the world.

“Lots of people don’t have a choice,” said Daria Poligaeva, a Russian journalist who moved to Dubai several years ago and is now seeing a wave of compatriots arriving. “It’s one of the few places where you can now transfer your business, where there’s a market, where you can develop your business, and where you still have a market of international corporations,” she added.






Flights from Russia

before and after sanctions

Armenia

Austria

Azerbaijan

belarus

Belgium

UK

croatian

Cyprus

Czech Rep.

denmark

Estonia

Finnish

France

Germany

Greece

Hungary

Iceland

Israel

Italy

Kazakhstan

latvia

Lithuanian

Luxembourg

Maldives

Netherlands

Norway

Poland

Portugal

qatar

Romanian

saudi arabia

Serbian

seychelles

Slovakia

Slovenian

South Korea

Spain

Sweden

Switzerland

Turkey

Ukraine

UAE

United States

Uzbekistan

Armenia

Austria

Azerbaijan

belarus

CANCELED

CANCELED

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CANCELED

CANCELED

CANCELED

CANCELED

CANCELED

CANCELED

Germany

Greece

CANCELED

CANCELED

Israel

Italy

Kazakhstan

CANCELED

CANCELED

CANCELED

Maldives

CANCELED

CANCELED

Poland

CANCELED

qatar

Romanian

saudi arabia

Serbian

seychelles

CANCELED

CANCELED

South Korea

CANCELED

Sweden

Switzerland

Turkey

Ukraine

UAE

United States

Uzbekistan

Flights from Russia before and after sanctions

Armenia

Austria

Azerbaijan

belarus

Belgium

UK

croatian

Cyprus

Czech Republic

denmark

Estonia

Finnish

France

Germany

Greece

Hungary

Iceland

Israel

Italy

Kazakhstan

latvia

Lithuanian

Luxembourg

Maldives

Netherlands

Norway

Poland

Portugal

qatar

Romanian

saudi arabia

Serbian

seychelles

Slovakia

Slovenian

South Korea

Spain

Sweden

Switzerland

Turkey

Ukraine

united arab emirates

United States

Uzbekistan

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004

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Armenia

Austria

Azerbaijan

belarus

Belgium

UK

croatian

Cyprus

Czech Rep.

denmark

Estonia

Finnish

France

Germany

Greece

Hungary

Iceland

Israel

Italy

Kazakhstan

latvia

Lithuanian

Luxembourg

Maldives

Netherlands

Norway

Poland

Portugal

qatar

Romanian

saudi arabia

Serbian

seychelles

Slovakia

Slovenian

South Korea

Spain

Sweden

Switzerland

Turkey

Ukraine

united arab emirates

United States

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CANCELED

CANCELED

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Flights from Russia before and after sanctions

Armenia

Austria

Azerbaijan

belarus

Belgium

UK

croatian

Cyprus

Czech Republic

denmark

Estonia

Finnish

France

Germany

Greece

Hungary

Iceland

Israel

Italy

Kazakhstan

latvia

Lithuanian

Luxembourg

Maldives

Netherlands

Norway

Poland

Portugal

qatar

Romanian

saudi arabia

Serbian

seychelles

Slovakia

Slovenian

South Korea

Spain

Sweden

Switzerland

Turkey

Ukraine

united arab emirates

United States

Uzbekistan

016

051

043

023

004

078

00two

039

0eleven

004

029

043

123

080

012

009

003

033

064

067

066

016

003

031

006

001

0fifteen

005

004

008

005

052

004

00two

00two

003

0twenty

010

118

074

016

153

0twenty

024

Armenia

Austria

Azerbaijan

belarus

Belgium

UK

croatian

Cyprus

Czech Republic

denmark

Estonia

Finnish

France

Germany

Greece

Hungary

Iceland

Israel

Italy

Kazakhstan

latvia

Lithuanian

Luxembourg

Maldives

Netherlands

Norway

Poland

Portugal

qatar

Romanian

saudi arabia

Serbian

seychelles

Slovakia

Slovenian

South Korea

Spain

Sweden

Switzerland

Turkey

Ukraine

united arab emirates

United States

Uzbekistan

017

001

040

0eleven

CANCELED

CANCELED

CANCELED

CANCELED

CANCELED

CANCELED

CANCELED

CANCELED

CANCELED

001

001

CANCELED

CANCELED

016

001

086

CANCELED

CANCELED

CANCELED

007

CANCELED

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Note: Sanctions on individuals started on Feb. 25 and a ban on airspace on Feb. 27. “Flights before sanctions” refers to records from Feb. 1 to March 15., and “after sanctions” from March 16 to May 8.

Multinational companies such as Goldman Sachs and Google have relocated Moscow-based employees to Dubai since the invasion. One of Russia’s best-known restaurateurs is working on a new project in Dubai. And a Dubai-based wellness company recently opened what it says is the city’s first banya, or Russian sauna — just in time for summer’s 110-degree days.

“We had to tweak it a little bit for Dubai,” said the company’s chief executive, Dominique Laird, estimating that 90 percent of her banya customers were Russian. “You can’t drink vodka in the steam room. They definitely can’t be naked.”

During the May holidays in Russia, bookended by Labor Day on May 1 and World War II Victory Day on May 9, a parade of Russian celebrities descended on Dubai. Most striking among them: Dmitri Kiselyov, the host of the marquee weekly propaganda show on Russian state television, in which he regularly threatens the West with nuclear annihilation. In Dubai, he was photographed, cold drink in hand, in short, pink swimming trunks.

The Times’s analysis shows that even amid the tensions between Moscow and the West in the weeks leading up to the invasion of Ukraine, private jets were flocking from Russia to Europe. In the first three weeks of February, their most popular destinations were France, Switzerland, Britain and Germany.

After the invasion on Feb. 24, private jets continued to fly out of Russia — but, by late April, virtually none were heading to Europe. Instead, beyond the United Arab Emirates, they have also made for Turkey, which has offered a safe haven for Russian oligarchs’ yachts and jets even as it sells lethal drones to Ukraine’s military.

Kazakhstan, the biggest country in Central Asia by area, has become another hub for Russian business. It is where the American consulting giant McKinsey initially relocated hundreds of employees from its Moscow office as it exited the Russian market this spring, and it was the third-most popular destination for private jets departing Russia after the invasion.

Despite international sanctions and closing airspace, some of Russia’s highest-profile oligarchs kept flying around the world after the invasion, The Times’s analysis suggests.

Dubai has become a focal point for travel, with some business tycoons parking their jets there; more than 70 remain parked in the United Arab Emirates or were only returned to Russia after being stuck there for weeks, the analysis suggests.






Al-Maktoum

International Airport

Al-Maktoum

International Airport

Al-Maktoum

International Airport


Source: Satellite image by Planet Labs PBC.

A plane owned by Roman Abramovich, an oligarch and former owner of the Chelsea soccer club, flew to Dubai just days after sanctions against Russian individuals kicked in:


Path of Roman Abramovich Jet

Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner





The jet left Moscow

for Dubai on March 4,

just one day after

the sanctions.

Dubai is the last

recorded location.

The jet left Moscow

for Dubai on March 4,

just one day after

the sanctions.

Dubai is the last

recorded location.

The jet left Moscow for Dubai on March 4, just one day after the sanctions.

Dubai is the last recorded location.


Sources: ADS-B Exchange and Flightradar24

Note: Sanctions on individuals started on Feb. 25 and a ban on airspace on Feb. 27. “Flights before sanctions” refers to records from Feb. 1 to March 15. Data does not indicate who was on board.

In June, the American authorities obtained a warrant for two of Mr. Abramovich’s plans, including the Dreamliner. They alleged that the plane had violated American sanctions when it was flown to Russia on March 4.

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