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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Russians Adopt New Tactics in UAE

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- When Majid graduated in Moscow as a turbines engineer, he never imagined that he would end up as a shoe salesman in Dubai.


But wealthy Russian shoppers -- not logarithms -- paid for his Mercedes, the 28-year-old Syrian says.


Majid is one of many Arabs in this bustling Gulf trade hub who has made a killing from Dubai's most acquisitive tourists -- visitors from the independent republics of the former Soviet Union.


In recent years they have flocked to Dubai with bundles of dollar bills, swarmed through shops and bought luxury goods to sell on the streets of Moscow and other cities of the Commonwealth of Independent States for huge profits.


With Russian as a second language, which he had acquired like many other Arabs who attended Soviet universities, Majid makes his living by arranging deals for Russians -- from buying container loads of women's tights to re-shipping Russian-made Lada cars to a thriving black market back home.


But the days when Majid and his like used to arrange it all and bring home about $500 a day each in cuts and backhanders are nearing an end, as the need for bilingual haggling, the main tool of their trade, seems to be fading away.


Industry sources say the second half of 1996 saw a 70 percent drop in the number of Russian visitors to the fabulously wealthy oil state of the United Arab Emirates.


Between 1993 and 1995 more than 570 airlines were operating unregistered flights to the UAE from the CIS. This dropped to 170 when control systems were established by the Russian civil aviation organization and International Air Transport Authority, according to the Dubai-based Aviamost magazine.


Industry sources said 40 flights from CIS countries still arrived in the UAE every day. They attributed the drop to new customs duties on imports from the Gulf, a sharp increase in air fares and competition from other markets in the area -- Lebanon, Syria and Turkey.


Economics is not the only force behind the fall in the number of CIS visitors, however.


Tourism industry sources said even those Russians engaging in legitimate business were changing their focus.


"They are no longer after four-wheel drives, video recorders, and piles of furniture ... Shopping has become very low on their lists of things to do," said a Sharjah tour operator.


Stacks of electronics waiting to be shipped to various destinations in the CIS are no longer a common sight outside hotels and on city curbs.


Many Russians seem to have discovered that being a middleman is more lucrative than buying and selling electronic goods.


Russian-speaking Arabs are losing their turf to Russians who are learning the tricks of the trade and setting up shops to lure their compatriots.


"There is no longer any room for [non-Russian] foreigners in their business," said a Sharjah furniture showroom manager.


He said some CIS visitors to the UAE were confidence tricksters mastering the art of money manipulation.


"Some of the money they bring in raises concern ... It is money that was hidden during the Soviet era, brought here to be made legal," A Dubai-based travel agency manager involved with tours from the CIS said.


He said Russians had approached many UAE nationals to use their bank accounts in return for a fee.


"Big sums were transferred to local joint accounts against generous fees, and some locals have reported being approached for the use of their bank accounts," he said.


"If they don't wash their money clean here, they will do it somewhere else," the manager added.