Gazprom steers clear of Ukraine

MOSCOW, September 5 (RIA Novosti) - Ukraine will not be a perennial transit country for Russian gas supplies to Europe, as Gazprom, Russia's natural gas monopoly, is trying to hedge its bets by breaking into new markets, a popular Russian daily reported Monday.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote that Gazprom's first liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker had arrived in the United States on September 2. On the same day, Belarus announced it reached an agreement with Russia to keep the price of natural gas bought in Russia at $46.68 per thousand cubic meters and not to change transit prices via Belarus.

However, concurrent talks in Kiev ended in failure. Gazprom and Ukraine's national oil company, Neftegaz Ukrainy, tried but failed to coordinate prices and volumes of Russian natural gas deliveries in 2006.

According to the paper, Ukraine is currently the principal transit country for Russian natural gas to Europe: last year it pumped over 130 billion cubic meters (including 115 bcm to Europe), whereas Belarus handled only 37.5 bcm. With these aces in its hands, Ukraine can afford to all but blackmail Russia.

The paper said that with such an unreliable partner as Ukraine, Gazprom was seeking to diversify its risks, including tapping into new markets. The concern has organized direct supplies of Russian LNG on long-term contracts to the United States.

Belarus may become an equally important partner for Gazprom in the longer term, as the Yamal-Europe natrual gas pipeline runs through its territory, the paper added.

In 2010, the North European Gas Pipeline, which Russia and Germany are to lay along the bottom of the Baltic Sea, thereby bypassing the transit countries, should be completed. The throughput capacity of Yamal-Europe will perhaps be increased by that time by adding a second line, and southern Europe may get gas via Turkey through the Blue Stream pipeline.

The new projects will enable Gazprom to reduce "country risks" appreciably and, in emergency situations, send gas deliveries around "the unfriendly nation," the paper said.

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