Rustam Minnikhanov Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News


Football fans and the media covering next year’s Fifa World Cup in Russia would have started making plans to cover the matches scheduled for the Kazan Arena in Tatarstan, a federal subject of the Russian Federation.

In fact, the eye-catching, 44,000 plus seater Kazan Arena could host a friendly even now — the stadium has been ready since 2013. And the design — based on a water lily — comes from the same design house — Foster + Partners — that did the famed Wembley and Emirates stadiums in London.

But Kazan — and Tatarstan — is intent on being more than just a pit stop as the world’s greatest and best footballers showcase their prowess across Russia.

For President Rustam Minnikhanov, it is but another opportunity to present his country in the best possible light. And use the platform to pull in foreign direct investments into the country of 3.88 million people and with a history as storied as that of the nation it is a neighbour to. (The capital Kazan is about 800 kilometres from Moscow.) “Any country that has developed in recent decades have built around foreign direct investments,” said President Minnikhanov. “A classic example is the experience of Dubai — and of the UAE itself — in the way it has fundamentally changed itself in 20 years or so.

“Sure, there was the taking advantage of the natural resources. But conditions were created that made being here a magnet for the other Gulf countries, North Africa and the rest of the world. It became the centre of the world. We could do something of that ourselves.”

President Minnikhanov was in Dubai early last week to be part of the AIM (Annual Investment Meeting) summit. And he was there right at the heart of meetings held through the duration of the event, to impress potential investors about mutually beneficial ties that can be had through a Tatarstan association.

“It needn’t be all inward investments — our country can offer the hard skills that businesses need to be successful,” said President Minnikhanov. “We signed an agreement with an Emirati business to support shipbuilding activity in the UAE.

“Tatarstan has the resources and the know-how — be in military or civil transportation or highly specialised defence services.”

Russia and the wider geography had attracted a significant degree of UAE interest in recent years. This was sought to be achieved by government-owned entities and the private sector. Local developers too saw that geography as fertile ground. But then the 2008 global financial crisis happened and overseas ventures took a back seat.

But, now, the possibilities are being picked up again. And there are gains being seen in areas such as tourism, where that part of the world is seeing a steady uptick in the number of leisure-seeking visitors from here.

Tatarstan will be working to get some of that traffic for itself, a point that President Minnikhanov kept reiterating. This is where the 2018 FIFA event, as well as this year’s FIFA Confederations Cup in June can do more than play a supporting role. It puts the country right in the global spotlight through a sport that crosses boundaries with such ease.

But Tatarstan is much beyond the sporting action. It’s got history … and a potent one at that. With the Volga — now that’s a river much feted in literature — coursing through, it sure provides ample picture-perfect opportunities for tourism.

President Minnikhanov on his part does not want to go with the natural flow … he wants to make it happen now. And would investors have full access to land and other needs?

“Nothing’s a problem. There are certain limitation on land use, but with the right partners these can resolved. They can look to joint ventures, come in with full equity, or any way they are comfortable with,” the President said. “It’s for foreign investors to tell us what they want. It will be done.”