Middle East

Western officials arrive in the UAE amid push to deprive Russia of advanced microchips

By Mostafa Salem, CNN

Abu Dhabi CNN  —  Senior Western officials are visiting the United Arab Emirates to discuss sanctions as concerns mount over goods being exported to Russia that could potentially be used in Moscow’s war on Ukraine.

Representatives from the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union arrived in the Gulf nation this week to discuss the implementation of sanctions on Russia as part of a broader effort with a range of “partner” countries, a US embassy spokesperson told CNN.

The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the visit, said that it comes as part of “a collective global push to keep computer chips, electronic components and other so-called dual-use products, which have both civilian and military applications, out of Russian hands.”

“The UAE is working with its friends and allies to address any concerns with regards to sanctions on Russia,” a senior UAE official told CNN when asked about the matter.

Last week, chip manufacturing giant Nvidia said in a regulatory filing that the US government had added additional licensing requirements for its H100 and A100 chips, which are often used for generative artificial intelligence, for customers in the Middle East. The new restriction comes amid US concerns over technology transfer to sanctioned countries.

Rival chipmaker AMD also received a letter with similar restrictions, Reuters reported, citing a person familiar with the matter. CNN has reached out to AMD.

It’s unclear which Middle Eastern states the additional measures target, or why they were placed. A US Department of Commerce spokesperson denied that the US is blocking chip sales to the Middle East, Reuters said.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are reportedly buying thousands of Nvidia chips used to build artificial intelligence software, the Financial Times said in August citing “people familiar with the moves”.

Asked about the chip sale restrictions, a UAE foreign ministry official said the country operates “one of the most sophisticated customs systems in the region.”

“This system is continuously and systematically updated to reflect developments in areas such as dual-use and sensitive technologies,” the official, who asked to remain anonymous citing government policy, told CNN.

The UAE has invested large sums in developing an artificial intelligence program and has a ministry dedicated to the technology. It is currently building large language models (LLMs) using advanced microchips.

An AI language model named “Falcon LLM”was launched earlier this year by the UAE’s Technology Innovation Institute, and an Arabic language AI model named “Jais” was unveiled by Abu Dhabi-based developer G42 last week.

UAE ‘abides by UN sanctions’

Russia is under a barrage of sanctions from the US and other Western nations following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. But most of these are primary sanctions, which can only be enforced within the territory of the sanctioning country.

Western officials have visited the UAE several times over the past two years to warn the regional business hub that helping Moscow evade sanctions wouldn’t be without consequences.

The US has previously sanctioned entities and individuals in the UAE for sanctions evasion, including two UAE-based air transportation firms for collaborating with a sanctioned Iranian firm to transport Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), personnel, and related equipment from Iran to Russia.

“The UAE strictly abides by UN sanctions and has clear and robust processes in place to deal with sanctioned entities, which has been exercised against a number of companies,” the UAE foreign ministry official said.

The UAE central bank in March cancelled a license granted to Russia’s MTS Bank after it came under US and British sanctions.

The Gulf state has walked a tightrope between Washington and Moscow since the start of the Ukraine war in February 2022, opting to remain neutral as it sees the world order moving toward multipolarity. It has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but has expanded economic ties with Moscow.

Last week, the UAE was one of six nations, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, to be invited to join BRICS, a grouping of nations effectively led by China with Russia. The UAE hasn’t officially accepted the invitation.

The bloc held its first summit in 2009 with four members before adding South Africa the following year. In 2015, it launched a lender known as the New Development Bank.

“From the UAE’s perspective, joining BRICS is about extending and enhancing our diplomatic circle. We look at BRICS from a geo-economic not a geo-political perspective, with the aim of strengthening our economic competitiveness,” a senior UAE official told CNN.

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