Dubai. Picture Credit: Kabir Jhangiani/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Telegraph takeover is a security threat

The UAE is heavily involved with our geopolitical rivals — so why are we letting them buy a British newspaper?

Artillery Row

The upcoming sale of the Daily Telegraph and Spectator is not the first time iconic British media brands have been eyed up by foreign buyers.

But there is a crucial difference between the hue and cry that accompanied, say, Rupert Murdoch’s acquisition of the Times and Sunday Times in the 1980s and the deep concern over the deal hatched between the Barclay brothers and Redbird IMI.

International Media Investments (‘IMI’), whilst technically a private company, is an investment fund with close links to the government of the United Arab Emirates. Whilst they’ve brought in Redbird Capital Partners, a US firm, for the media bid, the sale is only part of a bigger deal between IMI and the embattled Barclays.

Emirati sovereign wealth funds have invested billions in Russian strategic assets

Having flagship newspapers and magazines owned by foreign governments is already a completely different proposition to their being picked up by a private mogul such as Murdoch.

But it is even more concerning when the country involved is no friend to Britain on the world stage. Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, has said the sale of the titles to the UAE poses a “profound security concern”.

Even a cursory examination of the Emirates’ international conduct is enough to demonstrate that the Government has no business letting it buy its way into the British media – most obviously because of its close friendship with Vladimir Putin.

Since his (second) illegal invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the Russian president has found the world closed to him. Until now his only foreign trips had been to Iran and China; elsewhere, he fears arrest.

Not, however, in the UAE. Not only did the Emirati government welcome Putin, but it threw a lavish official reception. A motorcade, a cavalry escort, the national aerobatics team tracing the Russian colours in the sky – enough to make him feel like the czar he wishes he was.

Whilst there, Putin told Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Emirati president, that “our relations have reached unprecedented levels”; a Kremlin statement described the UAE as “Russia’s main economic partner in the Arab world”.

Nor is this a late development, an artefact of perceptions in parts of the world that interest in Ukraine’s plight is waning.

Mere months after the start of Russia’s offensive in 2022, Mohamed bin Zayan (or ‘MBZ’) flew to St Petersburg, Putin’s home city. Amidst warm words about the friendship between their nations, the two presidents discussed serious business.

That included colluding, via OPEC+, to push up world oil prices – inflicting serious economic hardship on Western nations whilst keeping Russia’s creaking war machine in the black. Since then, Emirati sovereign wealth funds have invested billions in Russian strategic assets, including the logistics and defence sectors.

Nor is that the only way that UAE cash helps to finance Russia’s global ambitions. According to evidence given to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, it has also played a crucial role in facilitating the operation of the Wagner Group, the mercenaries who act as Putin’s proxies overseas.

In Libya, Wagner has apparently been providing logistics and intelligence to support Khalifa Haftar, a rogue general who is trying to overthrow the Western-backed government in Tripoli. Were he to succeed, then Libya’s energy infrastructure would fall to Moscow’s influence – and the Kremlin could potentially coordinate even more migration chaos in the Mediterranean.

This is not a country that has any business owning a single British newspaper or magazine

It’s a similar story in Sudan, where Emirati weaponry is being channelled to pro-Russian rebels. Putin is backing the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), and their leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, in order to maintain the flow of Sudanese gold which is helping to finance his war in Ukraine.

And on top of colluding over oil prices, the UAE is also playing a crucial role in helping Russia and its kleptocrat elite avoid Western sanctions; numerous individuals have kept wealth and assets safe in the country, whilst diplomatically the Emirati government has resisted every international sanctions effort.

Don’t think that all this is just a special favour for Putin, though. The UAE seems happy to make its services available to other war-mongering despots as well.

Nicholas Maduro’s Venezuela is not just an important Russian ally in Latin America. It is also gearing up for its own land-grabbing invasion, having recently claimed sovereignty over more than half of neighbouring Guyana – a Commonwealth country.

Not only is the UAE helping the Maduro government circumvent sanctions, but it is also propping up the bankrupt Venezuelan economy, allowing Caracas to raise $1.21 billion from the proceeds of illegal gold mining as well as by ignoring Western sanctions on Venezuelan oil.

There’s plenty more, too, from hacking operations in the United States to using malware to spy on dissidents, rival governments, and even journalists.

This is not a country that has any business owning a single British newspaper or magazine. The Government must block the Redbird-IMI takeover bid, in the national interest.

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