September 12, 2007

Russia-UAE: from shuttle trade to high technologies

trade to high technologies
12:58 | 12/ 09/ 2007

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya) - On September 10, President Vladimir Putin paid his first visit to the United Arab Emirates. It seems strange that it is only now that the Russian head of state visited this Arab country, one of the most popular in Russia.

One possible explanation is that in the 1990s the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was associated in Russia only with shuttle trade and tourism, whereas now cooperation rests on high technologies and serious interstate contacts, which require the support of the heads of state.

During the visit, the two sides signed a number of intergovernmental agreements - to settle the Soviet debt of about $600 million, on cooperation against crime and on air travel, as well as a memorandum of mutual understanding in the field of standardization.

The Russian Federal Space Agency and the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science & Technology (EIAST) have signed a memorandum of understanding on joint use of space for peaceful purposes. Next year, Russia will launch a UAE space vehicle for remote probing of the Earth from the Baikonur space center.

The bilateral business forum organized by the trade chambers of both countries and the Russian-Emirati Business Council was timed to the visit. The council was set up only a year ago.

In the opening address, its co-chairman and CEO of Aeroflot - Russian Airlines Valery Okulov said: "The two countries have gone from shuttle trade to stable business contacts." In 2005, their trade accounted for $730 million and now the two countries are planning to top the $1 billion mark. Today, this seems feasible, although in 2002 trade was a mere $250 million.

Military-technical cooperation accounts for the biggest part in bilateral ties (in a decade $1 billion worth of agreements have been signed). The two sides concluded more than $50 million worth of contracts at the International Defense Exhibition (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi this February.

Mutual investment in construction and scientific and technical partnership is moving to the fore in the civilian fields. On the eve of Putin's visit, the UAE National University signed a contract on cooperation with Chelyabinsk State University and the PROMEKO research and production association. They are planning to open a department of innovations and environmental protection and a center of the Russian language and culture in the Emirates.

But the main goal is to establish a center for scientific, technical and innovations cooperation between Russia and the Gulf nations. Headquartered in the UAE, it will work in the framework of the Russian-Emirati intergovernmental commission. The center will concentrate on the transfer of Russian advanced environmental technologies for the Gulf countries.

An ExpoCenter will be built in the UAE to display modern Russian technologies, where Russian and Arab experts will conduct joint research. For the time being, the center exists only as a model - a flying saucer on three supports.

Military-technical and high-tech projects may expedite implementation of the Moscow-proposed joint system of regional collective security with the Gulf nations. Under this proposal Russia would sign with each country of the region agreements on reliable security guarantees, including confidence-building measures and control over military activities.

For the time being this project mostly exists in the minds of Russian policymakers, but Putin's visit to the UAE and his trip to Saudi Arabia and Qatar last February show that its implementation is possible.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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