Kremlin's space agency chief seeks to cushion Washington's weight among Gulf states

Russia seeks closer space cooperation with Emirates to rebalance US influence

PHOTO/Roscosmos - Yuri Borisov with Salem al-Marri, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, the institution that implements the projects of the Emirates Space Agency

The director general of the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos), General Yuri Borisov, has just concluded his three-day tour of the United Arab Emirates. He came to the Gulf country with a large representation of senior Kremlin space officials in order to rebalance as far as possible the considerable influence that Washington exerts over Emirati organisations and the growing Emirati industrial fabric. 

The visit is an attempt by Moscow to strengthen its space cooperation with the UAE, whose authorities have in recent years been keen to strengthen their collaboration with Washington's space agency - NASA - and with US space institutions, universities and companies.  

The objective sought by Yuri Borisov, in his own words, is to "broaden and deepen the avenues of collaboration already existing between the two nations". To achieve this, he went to the Arab nation with the intention of "personally and directly presenting a series of proposals aimed at formalising new areas of cooperation". 

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Yuri Borisov was accompanied by the heads of the state institutions and companies that make up the Roscosmos corporation. Andrei Elchaninov, Borisov's first deputy director general and right-hand man; the head of advanced projects, Alexander Bloshenko; the director of the Cosmonaut Training Centre, veteran cosmonaut Sergei Krikalyov, who has completed six missions in orbit between 1988 and 2005.  

Also in attendance was Roscosmos' strongman in the field of international cooperation, Sergei Saveliev, escorted by the executive president of the Glavkosmos company, Dimitri Loskutov, who is responsible for laying the foundations for the occasional new bilateral project. Glavkosmos is the commercial arm of Roscosmos and has the experience of more than 140 international contracts for satellite launches and cosmonaut training for third countries.

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GLONASS receiving stations in the Emirates 

During the first three days of their stay in the UAE in February, Yuri Borisov and his team held talks with the Gulf country's leading authorities involved in ultra-terrestrial activities. They met the Minister of Industry and Advanced Technologies, Sultan al-Jaber, the President of the Space Agency, Sarah bin Yusif al-Amiri, and its Director General, Salem al-Kubaisi. 

In Dubai, home to the Control Centre for all the country's outer space missions, he met with Salem al-Marri, Director General of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, the institution that monitors the Arab nation's scientific and observation satellites. The centre also receives information on manned flights involving Emirati astronauts. He also learned about the National Space Science and Technology Centre. 

Russia attaches great importance to its space relations framework with the Emirates. Last December it ratified an agreement signed in October 2021 to carry out joint projects for the peaceful exploration and use of outer space. One of these is the installation on Emirati territory of stations to receive GLONASS signals, the Russian equivalent of the American GPS and the European Galileo. 

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Another important project is the trilateral project with the Republic of Kazakhstan, whereby the UAE Space Agency is financing a large part of the modernisation of the infrastructure of the manned space launch complex at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, leased by Russia from the Astana government until 2050.

Yuri Borisov has also opened up the possibility of exchanging professors and students between Moscow State Technical University, the Space Research Institute (IKI) and the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems with the Al Ain University of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi. However, from the lack of official Russian information following the conclusion of the visit, it appears that General Borisov has not achieved all the goals he set out to achieve.

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Second astronaut to fly at the end of February 

Russia is disappointed to see the Emirates and the government of President Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan pursuing manned spaceflight. Hazzaa al-Mansoori, the first Emirati astronaut, trained in Russia and left for space in September 2019 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a Soyuz launcher and capsule of the same name. 

Al-Mansoori travelled with an American and a Russian, stayed on the International Space Station (ISS) for about eight days and returned to Earth also in a Soyuz capsule. But the same will not be true for the second Emirati, Sultan al-Neyadi, who is scheduled to take off on 26 February from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

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He will travel on a US Falcon 9 launcher aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon-6 capsule. It's a private flight, which he shares with three other passengers: NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrei Fedyaev. And instead of eight days like his companion, he will stay six months on the ISS.

The stay of the delegation led by General Yuri Borisov coincided with an official visit to the Emirates by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Russia's most loyal ally in Central Europe. This was no coincidence. 

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As Vladimir Putin's unofficial representative, Lukashenko met with President Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, to whom he reiterated his full support for Moscow in the war in Ukraine, his plans to send one of his compatriots into space on a Russian spacecraft, and his desire to strengthen commercial and other ties with the UAE. 

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