Russian Arms Makers Maintain Low Profile at Dubai Airshow

 16. 11. 2023      Category: Defense exhibitions

The Dubai Airshow, a biennial commercial and defense industry event, has traditionally been a showcase for the latest in military technology and weaponry. However, this year's event stands out for a particular reason – the conspicuously low profile of Russian arms makers. Unlike previous years, Russian participation has been limited to an outdoor area at the very end of the exhibition space, raising questions about the reasons behind this change. This shift underscores the delicate balancing act that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been navigating in its international relations, trying to maintain ties with both the West and Moscow.

Russian Arms Makers at the Dubai Airshow

Russian arms makers, renowned for their cutting-edge military technology, have been a notable presence at past Dubai Airshows. However, this year, they find themselves relegated to an outdoor pavilion separate from the main exhibition hall. This decision has puzzled many, including Russian industry executives who are unsure why Russian firms have been placed in this manner.

An unnamed Russian arms industry executive expressed surprise at this development and commented on the situation: "We have been put a bit away, outside the main pavilion." This subtle shift in positioning has raised eyebrows, as it differs significantly from previous years' arrangements. The executive, however, did not provide any specific reasons for this change.

Despite the change in exhibition location, Russian Su35S fighter jets did manage to perform an impressive aerobatics display during the event, as reported by the TASS news agency. Russian defense giants such as Rostec, United Aircraft Corp, and Almaz-Anty are among the companies that have a presence at the show this year.

The UAE's Delicate Balancing Act

The United Arab Emirates occupies a unique position in the turbulent geopolitical landscape of the Middle East. Situated at the crossroads of Asia, Europe, and Africa, the UAE has emerged as a key player in the region, boasting a robust economy, strategic geographic location, and significant political influence. Yet, this prominence comes with its own set of challenges, particularly in the realm of international relations.

One of the defining features of the UAE's foreign policy is its ability to maintain a delicate balancing act between its Western allies and Russia, even when their interests often diverge. This balancing act is most evident in the UAE's approach to the ongoing geopolitical tensions surrounding Russia's actions in Ukraine.

While many Western nations, including the United States and European Union, have imposed stringent economic sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, the UAE has notably refrained from following suit. Instead, it has maintained its relations with Moscow, particularly in the areas of trade, investment, and defense cooperation. This stance has raised eyebrows among its Western partners, who have been urging the UAE to reconsider its relationship with Russia.

Several factors contribute to the UAE's cautious approach:

  1. Economic Interests: The UAE has a significant economic stake in its relationship with Russia. Russian tourists, investors, and businesses have become increasingly important to the UAE's economy in recent years. Dubai, in particular, has attracted Russian visitors and investors, making it a vital economic hub.

  2. Diversification Strategy: The UAE is actively working to diversify its economy away from its historical reliance on oil and gas revenues. As part of this diversification strategy, the UAE seeks to expand its trade and investment ties with countries beyond the Western sphere, and Russia presents an attractive partner in this endeavor.

  3. Defense Cooperation: The UAE has been a customer of Russian defense equipment, including fighter jets, helicopters, and air defense systems. Maintaining these relationships is crucial for the UAE's national security strategy.

  4. Mediator Role: The UAE has positioned itself as a mediator in various regional conflicts, including those in Yemen and Libya. Maintaining relations with Russia allows the UAE to engage diplomatically with Moscow on regional issues and potentially influence Russian policies in the Middle East.

The UAE's approach to Russia is not solely driven by economic interests; it is a calculated diplomatic maneuver designed to safeguard the nation's strategic position and maintain its influence on the global stage. By navigating a middle path between its Western allies and Russia, the UAE aims to protect its interests while contributing to regional stability.

However, this balancing act is not without challenges. The UAE faces ongoing pressure from Western powers, particularly the United States, to reassess its relationship with Moscow. The U.S. has been increasingly vocal about its concerns regarding Russia's influence in the Middle East and seeks to limit Russia's engagement in the region. This puts the UAE in a sensitive position, requiring careful diplomacy to manage its international relationships effectively.

Russian Pavilion and International Visitors

Inside the Russian pavilion, visitors can find an impressive array of combat gear, as well as models of fighter jets and combat helicopters. According to the Russian executive, military delegations from regions including the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and the Americas have already visited the pavilion during the show. However, specific countries were not disclosed.

Outside the Russian pavilion, eye-catching displays include the Russian KA-52E combat helicopter, the IL-76MD-90AE military transport aircraft, and the RVV-MD2 missile designed for stealth fighter jets. Interestingly, the U.S. Air Force aircraft on display at the event have been placed at the opposite end of the outdoor exhibition area, emphasizing the distinction between the American and Russian exhibits.


The limited visibility of Russian arms makers at the Dubai Airshow this year highlights the UAE's careful diplomacy in navigating its international relations. As the nation seeks to strike a balance between maintaining ties with both the West and Moscow, it has positioned Russian exhibitors away from the main exhibition hall, symbolizing its nuanced approach to global geopolitics. While the exact reasons for this shift remain unclear, it serves as a reminder of the intricate web of alliances and interests that shape the world of defense and diplomacy.

 Author: Michal Fencl