Qatar Airways plans to buy stake in Russian airport as emir visits Moscow

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Qatar Airways announced plans on Monday to buy a 25 percent stake in Russia’s Vnukovo Airport, the third-largest in the Moscow area by passenger numbers.

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The deal was announced on the same day that Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, met President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin.

A Qatar Airways spokeswoman told Reuters the airline had signed a memorandum of understanding to buy the minority stake and that it now had eight weeks to finalize the transaction.

Russia’s Interfax news agency earlier quoted Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar al-Baker as announcing the deal.

No financial details were released.

The airport is co-owned by the Russian state, which has a blocking stake, and Russian businessman Vitaly Vantsev and his partners.

Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority, owns a 20 percent stake in London’s Heathrow airport.

Qatari relations with a number of Gulf countries are strained after Saudi Arabia and some of its allies last year accused Doha of supporting Islamists, a charge it denies. With its military intervention in Syria, Russia has emerged as a powerful player in the Middle East.

“We are counting on our Russian friends ... knowing that Russia plays a major role with regards to the problems existing in the Arab world... including the role where you help to solve some of our countries’ problems,” al-Thani told Putin at their meeting.

Russia is supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his war against rebel fighters, some of whom are backed by Turkey, an ally of Qatar.

Qatar, together with global commodities trader Glencore GLEN.L, has invested in Russian state oil company Rosneft ROSN.MM. They both later agreed to sell part on that stake to China's CEFC in a deal which has since stalled.

In October last year, Putin hosted Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in Moscow, who became the first sitting Saudi monarch to visit Russia.

Reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Vladimir Soldatkin; Additional reporting by Alexander Cornwell in Dubai and Victoria Bryan in Berlin; Writing by Christian Lowe and Katya Golubkova; Editing by Adrian Croft