Russia and Abu Dhabi in talks to develop major new airport in Cuba

Exclusive: Russian trade and industry minister Denis Manturov revealed discussions have taken place with Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala to co-invest in the vast project.

Russian trade and industry minister Denis Manturov aims a weapon during Idex 2015 in Abu Dhabi. Reuters
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Russia is in talks with Abu Dhabi investors to build a major airport in Cuba to serve as a hub for Latin America.

In an exclusive interview with The National, Russian trade and industry minister Denis Manturov said discussions had taken place with Abu Dhabi’s strategic investment company Mubadala to invest in the vast project.

Mr Manturov said Russia planned to invest at least US$200 million (Dh734.6m) in the project, which could also include redeveloping a port and building a railway line.

“We are deeply involved in these negotiations,” the minister said. “Cuba is developing a transport hub from the seaport and a railway to the airport.

“They have only one international airport and they are planning to use one of the ex-military bases to build a big airport hub for Latin America.”

A Mubadala spokesman said: “The company is regularly reviewing a number of different investment opportunities with its Russian partners.”

Battered by international sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine, Russia is strengthening ties with trading partners in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.

After five decades of hostilities, relations between the US and Cuba are thawing, attracting the interest of some international investors.

The port of Mariel is at the centre of a special development zone established to attract foreign investment into Cuba.

Brazilian construction group Odebrecht last year finished an $800m project at the port, west of Havana. A Cuban embassy official said he did not have information on the project.

Russia’s involvement in the project is part of a move by president Vladimir Putin to effectively write off about $32 billion of debt from the Soviet era, when Cuba relied heavily on USSR support.

Cuba will still have to pay back more than $3bn in 10 years under a deal revealed last summer.

Mr Manturov has held several meetings this week with government officials and sovereign wealth funds in Abu Dhabi, where he is leading a huge delegation of Russian arms makers at the Idex military exhibition.

He said that Russia hoped to boost military exports to the UAE and establish ties with its fledgling space agency.

His visit coincided with a threat by the US secretary of state John Kerry of increasing sanctions for recent fighting in Ukraine – a threat the minister shrugged off.

“It is useless to use fear against us because we know what fear is,” Mr Manturov said. “Nobody has ever managed to receive a positive result from the use of force and pressure on our country.”

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