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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Microsoft on Monday pledged millions of dollars to support Russia's plan to create a Silicon Valley-style technology hub outside Moscow as it hunts growth opportunities in the underdeveloped market.
Skolkovo, set up as an environment to help fledgling companies in high-tech industries, was launched earlier this year as part of President Dmitry Medvedev's drive to modernize the oil and gas-dependent Russian economy.
Microsoft, now focused on providing software and computing power over the internet -- known as "cloud computing" -- sees Russia as a market of great strategic importance, chief executive Steve Ballmer told a news conference in Moscow.
"Russia is very well positioned to play a leading role in the changes in our industry ... and certainly Microsoft is pleased to participate in supporting companies coming into existence here in Russia and benefiting from the growth of the market," he said.
Ballmer and Viktor Vekselberg, an oil and mining tycoon who heads the Skolkovo foundation, on Monday signed a memorandum of understanding which foresees the creation of a research and development center, among other areas of cooperation.
"We are establishing a software development R&D center in Skolkovo and it will be the focal point for managing the development of Microsoft's global products based upon expertise that we hire and people we employ here in Russia," Ballmer said.
"Microsoft is also planning to provide financial support to implement some of the most promising ideas at the early stages," he said.
Microsoft's Russia chief Nikolai Pryanishnikov also said the U.S. software giant was ready to support 100 start-up companies, with investment in each likely to range between $50,000 and $500,000.
Referring to Microsoft's planned investments in the Skolkovo project overall, Ballmer said they would amount to "tens of millions of dollars" a year.
U.S. group Cisco said in June it would invest $1 billion in Russia this decade and help to build the Skolkovo center alongside Germany's Siemens.
Skolkovo aims to give state backing to companies to help them develop selected new products in five priority sectors -- energy, IT, telecommunications, biotech, and nuclear technologies.
Reporting by Maria Kiselyova, Editing by John Bowker and David Cowell