Russians seek UK support for £2.5bn Silicon Valley II

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The Independent Online

Leaders of a project to create a Silicon Valley near Moscow have rejected fears it is difficult to do business while Vladimir Putin runs Russia.

Representatives of the Skolkovo Foundation, on a visit to London to drum up support, pointed out at least 14 global giants, including BP, Nokia, Siemens and SAP, are investing in the project.

Viktor Vekselberg, foundation president, said: "We believe the initiative will be one of those projects that will change Russia."

The foundation – which has got $4bn (£2.5bn) in funds, largely from the Russian government, over three years – plans a "world-class" technology and science research hub.

This will include a university campus that might follow the lead of Stanford or Berkeley in Silicon Valley, where Google and many other US tech companies began. The Skolkovo project will also build five key research centres dedicated to IT, biomedicine, energy, nuclear and space as well as a business park and a town for 26,000.

Russia has said it is keen to move from an economy reliant on natural resources to one focused on technology, knowledge and entrepreneurship. The government has given 500 hectares to the foundation.

However, Mr Vekselberg said: "We'll never be able to repeat the Silicon Valley success."

Foundation members have visited universities including Oxford, Cambridge and London's Imperial College this week to forge alliances.

BP yesterday signed a £9.3m joint research deal with the foundation and Imperial College to make oil refining in Russia more environmentally sustainable. The foundation will also visited the US, France, Germany and Switzerland.

UK Trade & Investment, the Whitehall body that supports UK business overseas, is backing the project.

UK firms want Government backing as some overseas companies have had trouble in Russia in the past, including BP, which had a bust-up over a venture with TNK.