Russia sees UAE as future site for space launches
Putin's state visit to the Emirates on Tuesday to effect a paradigm shift in bilateral relations.
Close on the heels of the successful launch of its first astronaut Hazzaa AlMansoori into space, the UAE got another shot in the arm with Moscow poised to propose satellite launches from the Emirati territory using Russian technology.
But the sky is not the limit when it comes to the strategic UAE-Russia partnership which is poised for a perestroika of sorts with the announcement of President Vladimir Putin's state visit to the Emirates on October 15. With Russia on the verge of throwing open $200 billion worth of infrastructure projects, the Kremlin believes there wouldn't be a better opportunity for the UAE government and investors.
The air in the corridors of power in Moscow was thick with the excitement about the scheduled visit of the Russian leader after a decade. Officials I spoke to at Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, and at the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said the historic visit would mark a significant shift in the Kremlin's Middle East policy - politically and economically. The ease with which the officials pronounce the names of the UAE Rulers while conversing in Russian resonated the camaraderie that already exists between the leaders of the two nations.
"We are very excited about the UAE's first spaceman," Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, told Khaleej Times during a briefing on President Putin's visit.
"I saw the photos of him arriving and I could see he's very happy. I know he comes from a rural area in the UAE, so I think it's really an amazing accomplishment and great to see he was very successful in space," Dmitriev said.
"We are very impressed by the UAE's space programme. We know it's developing very quickly. UAE space officers are being trained at Russian facilities. And there are several projects in space we are discussing with the UAE, including the launching of satellites from the UAE territory using some of the Russian technology," he said.
"I think cooperation in space can be very significant, and we believe the UAE can become a very strong space power going forward," he added.
Leonid Slutsky, member of the State Duma and Chairman of the Committee on International Affairs, said astronaut Hazzaa's mission is a major achievement for the UAE and the first step in space cooperation between the two countries.
The UAE is already in "advance talks" with Virgin Galactic to use its territory as one of their main take-off and landing destinations for space tourism.
"We are talking to Virgin Galactic to try to position UAE as potential place for space tourism in the future. We have discussions with Virgin Galactic to fly from the UAE in the future," Dr Mohammed Al Ahbabi, director-general of the UAE Space Agency, had told Khaleej Times in December last.
The latest proposal from Russia, one of the pioneers of the space industry, could provide a significant boost to the UAE's ambition to establish a spaceport in its territory.
Slutsky said though His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and President Putin had met more than 10 times, this visit assumes great significance in the wake of the existing political and investment climate.
Slutsky said that apart from RDIF-Mubadala joint ventures, Moscow is looking at new investment horizons such as space, technology and nuclear energy.
Dmitriev said Russia also plans to propose very advanced but smaller nuclear generators that "we believe can be a breakthrough in energy production".
He said Russia will showcase some of its success stories in sectors like space, technology and agriculture in the much-anticipated Expo 2020 Dubai.