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    Gasunie to join Russia's Nord Stream project

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    MOSCOW, November 6 (RIA Novosti) - The visiting Dutch prime minister is expected to sign an agreement for Dutch company, Gasunie, to join a gas pipeline project across the Baltic Sea at a meeting with President Vladimir Putin Tuesday.

    Accompanied by a large delegation of Dutch businessmen, Jan Peter Balkenende arrived for an official visit Monday to discuss bilateral energy cooperation. The Dutch official is scheduled to meet with Putin and Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov.

    If Gasunie becomes the fourth and last participant in the Nord Stream project, Russian energy giant Gazprom will receive investment and political guarantees for the implementation of Europe's most expensive gas pipeline.

    "Gazprom is seeking to speed up the approval process, where the Netherlands could offer substantial assistance," Kommersant, Russia's leading business daily, quoted

    Yekaterina Kravchenko, an expert from BrokerCreditService, as saying. She said it would also enable Gazprom to enter the end consumer market in the EU.

    Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov confirmed that Gasunie's participation would expand Nord Stream's status to pan-European.

    The Czech Republic said Friday it would build a leg of the Nord Stream.

    However, neither the Netherlands nor the Czech Republic will be able to pump natural gas directly from Nord Stream. Germany's RWE has already announced plans to build a gas pipeline from the Krkonose Mountains in the Czech Republic to the German city of Waidhaus.

    The Netherlands is one of Russia's leading economic partners in Europe, and plays a key role in developing Russia's economic ties with foreign countries. The country is Russia's second-largest economic partner after Germany, and holds first place for accumulated direct investment.

    Trade between Russia and the Netherlands hit $38.5 billion last year, and could grow to $42 billion in 2007, with the index for the first half of this year exceeding $20 billion. Dutch accumulated investment in the Russian economy made $34.5 billion as of late June 2007, with direct investment accounting for over 85%.

    Russia and the Netherlands are also witnessing the most active energy cooperation, including in the gas sphere. Among other projects, Dutch companies are participating in developing mineral resources on Sakhalin in the Russian Far East.

    According to N.V. Nederlandse Gasunie's Web Site, the gas infrastructure company "owns one of the largest high pressure gas pipeline grids in Europe, consisting of 12,000 km (7,456 miles) of pipeline, dozens of installations and approximately 1,100 gas receiving stations. In 2005, gas throughput totaled more than 95 billion cubic meters."

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