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    Putin says gas exporters' group no threat to consumers

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    Fears by Western consumers that a group of natural gas producing countries that includes Russia will lead to price manipulation are ungrounded, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday.

    MOSCOW, November 11 (RIA Novosti) - Fears by Western consumers that a group of natural gas producing countries that includes Russia will lead to price manipulation are ungrounded, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday.

    "We are aware of the concerns and fears expressed by some energy consumers," Putin said. "There are absolutely no grounds for such fears. We are not establishing a cartel, nor are we striking any cartel deals."

    A number of major gas producers have established the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF), but have not yet adopted a charter. The group, which already includes Venezuela, Iran, Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, and other countries, lacks a strict membership system. Norway has observer status.

    The member countries currently control about 73% of the world's gas reserves and 42% of its production.

    "However, energy producers, as well as consumers, have the right to and must coordinate their decisions, exchange information, and do their best to ensure uninterrupted hydrocarbon supplies on global markets," Putin said, adding that uninterrupted supplies and reasonable prices were the main objective of the grouping.

    Russia, Iran, and Qatar - ranked first, second and third respectively in terms of global gas reserves - will hold gas cooperation talks in Doha, Qatar, on Wednesday. The "gas troika" agreed to boost coordination in the sphere at a meeting in Tehran in October.

    A Russian government source said in late October that Russia had no plans to establish a natural gas cartel similar to OPEC, an idea first launched by then-Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2001 and enthusiastically backed by Iran. Western states have opposed the cartel as a political weapon.

    "We do not plan to create a natural gas cartel, or a gas OPEC, but welcome the integration of and coordination between gas producers," the official said.

    Russia's finance minister and deputy prime minister, Alexei Kudrin, earlier questioned the abilities of oil and gas cartels to cut market risks, including prices that he said have been driven up by market speculation.

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