Kenya and Russia have agreed to initiate the process of signing a bilateral air traffic agreement that will allow the national carriers of the two countries, the Kenya Airways and the Aeroflot, to fly directly to Moscow and Nairobi respectively.
The deal was arrived at during a meeting between Prime Minister Raila Odinga and the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the 2012 St Petersburg International Economic Forum, which ended on Saturday.
The agreement came as PM’s visit to Russia appeared set to create a new momentum for stronger involvement of the one time Super Power in Kenya’s economy.
President Putin made a personal pledge to push Russian companies to move into Kenya, saying the two countries had ties through the years that need to be reactivated.
Odinga said it could mark a new start in ties that will cover the fields of agriculture, education and tourism and Information Technology.
At the meeting with President Putin, Prime Minister Odinga put the case for direct flights to Russia saying it would spur trade in horticulture and tourism and particularly make it easier for Kenyan farmers to access fertilizers from Russia.
The PM said absence of direct flights was the main reason Kenya, with more to offer in tourism than Egypt, attracts far less Russian tourists than the North African country.
Odinga said direct flights would particularly help Kenya access Russia’s fertilizers, which currently comes to the country through middlemen who cause delays and drive prices up thus disrupting farming.
Russia’s Ministry of Energy immediately took up the call, saying Russia is keen on a substantive cooperation with Kenya in the Energy sector.
Alexander Novak, the Russian Federation’s Minister for Energy said the country is ready for a substantive cooperation with Kenya on integrated development covering Geothermal, clean coal, hydroelectric, oil and wind power generation.
The Minister said Russia is ready to set up a joint working group with Kenya on how to cooperate in the energy sector where it has massive experience covering oil and gas exploration, among other fields.
Lukoil, Russia’s second largest oil company also indicated readiness to move into Kenya. The management of the company said it would send a delegation to Kenya before the end of July to scout for opportunities in oil and gas exploration.
The PM emphasized that Kenya needs to get its flowers directly into Russia, and not through Amsterdam and Russian tourists need to fly directly to Nairobi.
“Russia is the biggest producer of fertilizers in the world. But we are getting it through middlemen in Amsterdam and other brokers in Nairobi. This results in delayed deliveries, higher prices and poor harvests. Direct flights between Moscow and Nairobi will allow our people to import fertilizers directly and therefore address the critical missing links in the agriculture sector,” the PM said.
He said that last year, Kenya, with its diverse offers at lower cost, attracted only 7,000 tourists from Russia while the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh alone, with less to offer than Kenya, attracted more than a million Russian visitors.