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Lev Kobrin
06-09-2004, 05:18 PM
May 26, 2004, 6:14PM

Energy, space draw Russian consulate here
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle
Its energy industries and aerospace facilities make Houston the perfect place for Russia's fourth consulate general in the United States, the consul general said Tuesday.

Chicago had also been considered, said Nikolay Sofinskiy, 46, but Houston is a better fit for Russian energy businesses.

"This is our goal, to enhance business between the United States and Russia," he said. "Taking the energy profiles of Houston and Russia, this is important. Aerospace is also important. Our cosmonauts train here."

Russia is one of the world's largest oil producers and has large natural gas reserves.

Its consulate general here -- Russia's others are in New York City, San Francisco and Seattle -- will open in mid-June on the 13th floor of an office building at 1333 West Loop South, near the Galleria. It will have six diplomats, along with the office staff.

About 40,000 Russian-speaking people live in the Houston area, Sofinskiy said.

"You would think having a consulate here would encourage Houston companies to explore opportunities in Russia," said Kyle Cooper, vice president and energy analyst with Citigroup Global Markets.

Houston also was considered a good choice because the consulates general handle U.S. geographic regions, and the Southeastern area can easily be handled from Houston.

Russian-speaking residents can get legal assistance and other services there instead of having to contact one of the other consulates general. U.S. residents traveling to Russia can obtain documents or other paperwork at the consulate rather than dealing with the embassy in Washington, D.C., as they do now.

"Definitely it will be a good thing, even if you are an American citizen," said Sophia Grinblat, editor and publisher of Our Texas, a Russian-language biweekly newspaper in Houston.

"It's a terrific thing," said Sergei Galperin, 38, first violinist with the Houston Symphony, who immigrated with his parents and sister to the United States from Moscow 25 years ago. "It's long overdue, because Russia has so much oil and gas business."

The consulate general will help improve the quality of life in Russia as more business is generated with U.S. companies, Galperin said.