Russia clinches gas contract with Azerbaijan
Russian gas giant Gazprom clinched a deal to buy natural gas from Azerbaijan, as Moscow seeks to extend its grip on
potential European energy supplies in the resource-rich Caspian Sea. The agreement was signed by Gazprom chief
executive Alexei Miller and Azerbaijani national energy company chief Rovnag Abdullayev in the presence of Russian
President Dmitry Medvedev and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev.
"I think that we will be able to take this work further, in view of greater opportunities and greater volumes, which will be increased," Medvedev told in Baku.
Miller said Gazprom's purchases would start at 500 mm cm of gas annually as of Jan. 1, 2010, with the agreement
allowing for supply levels to increase later.
"The price will be commercially attractive for Azerbaijan because we are neighbouring countries so there are no transit states between us," Miller said. "We can therefore begin to buy the gas quickly. There is already a gas pipeline between us," he said.
The deal could cast doubts on the viability of the European Union's ambitious Nabucco pipeline project, aimed at
bypassing Russia to deliver Caspian Sea gas to Western Europe.
Rich in oil and gas and strategically located between Russia and Iran, Azerbaijan has been courted by both Russia and the West since gaining its independence with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Backed by Western governments, companies such as BP have pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the country's energy sector, building a corridor of oil and gas pipelines from Azerbaijan through Georgia and Turkey to Europe.
Azerbaijan is seen as a crucial potential provider for Nabucco, a 3,300-km (2,050-mile) pipeline between Turkey and
Austria scheduled to be completed by 2013. The pipeline is aimed at reducing European reliance on Russian gas
supplied through Ukraine -- a route that has seen repeated interruptions.
Anxious to secure energy sources for its own export pipelines, Russia this year stepped up efforts to buy gas from Azerbaijan. In March the two countries signed a preliminary deal on natural gas sales from 2010 and a month later Medvedev hosted Aliyev in Moscow to push the deal forward.
Russia is also backing a rival pipeline to Nabucco, South Stream, being built by Gazprom and Italy's ENI. That
project entails building a gas pipeline under the Black Sea from Russia to Bulgaria and then branches to Austria and
Azerbaijan last year produced 22.8 bn cm of natural gas, according to government figures, and the country expects to nearly double gas production to 40 bn cm by 2015-2020.