Oil giant Gazprom has signed a 'cooperation agreement' with Saint Petersburg Yacht Club, which could lead to a Russian challenge for the America's Cup in 2017.
The wide-ranging partnership will see the two parties combine to promote both amateur and professional sailing in Saint Petersburg, with a model likely to be based on successful projects elsewhere in the world such as Oman Sail.
A statement said the partnership will also facilitate the hosting of events, both national and international, and 'build the relevant urban infrastrcture' required to do so. Those events will include children's races.
An education programme, to be called Sailing Academy, will also be created and there will also be a focus on developing Olympic-level Russian sailors. 'The club will also create and train a professional sailing team to take part in the 2017 America's Cup international regatta', the statement continued.
The agreement will run until at least 2017. It was signed by Alexey Miller, the chairman of the Gazprom Management Committee, Georgy Poltavchenko, the governor of Saint Petersburg and Vladimir Lyubomirov, the president of the yacht club.
Saint Petersburg Yacht Club was created in 2010. The 'regional sport public organisation' has been sponsored by Gazprom since last year, but the new partnership represents a significant broadening of the relationship.
News of a potential well-funded Russian challenger for the America's Cup will be a boost for stakeholders of sailing's most prestigious event, which has attracted only three challengers - Emirates Team New Zealand, Prada-owned Luna Rossa Challenger and Sweden's Artemis Racing - for this edition's challenger series, which begins next month in San Francisco.