The satellites will be launched from a base in Kazakhstan.

 

Nuclear ambitions   

 

Putin said he saw a possibility for co-operation with the kingdom on atomic energy, after six Gulf Arab countries agreed in December to launch a peaceful nuclear energy programme, in what was seen as a reaction to Iran's nuclear ambitions.

   

Putin said: "However, Russia hopes to see peace and stability in the region."

   

Putin, who left the kingdom later for Qatar, said Saudi Arabia could benefit from Russia's experience in gas exploration.

   

In 2000, Russia's Lukoil and Saudi Aramco launched a joint venture called Luksar to explore and produce gas in an area of the Rub al-Khali desert.

 

Bilateral trade  

 

Trade exchanges between the two countries rose 230 per cent from 2000 to $400 million in 2005, with Saudi exports accounting for a small fraction of them.

   

Saudi businessmen blamed high Russian customs duties, which they said amounted to up to 200 per cent, the absence of direct transport links and long procedures in Russian banks.

   

Putin invited Saudi banks to open 100-per cent-owned branches in Russia and said bilateral investments would rise after the Saudi Development Fund signed an agreement during his visit with two Russian state banks.