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Putin lobbies for gas pipeline in Slovenia visit

Putin lobbies for gas pipeline in Slovenia visit

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin traveled to Slovenia Tuesday to reassure officials that construction of a major pipeline for delivery of Russian natural gas to Europe is not in jeopardy, as some Kremlin officials have suggested.
Putin's talks are expected to focus on clearing up the last legal and financial hurdles for the South Stream project for transport of up to 63 billion cubic meters (2.2 trillion cubic feet) annually under the Black Sea to Bulgaria. From there, it would be shipped through Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia and Austria via another leg of the pipeline scheduled for completion in 2015.
Putin did not immediately comment after arriving, but Russian Communications Minister Igor Shchegolev said "Slovenia will become one of the leading gas transit states in the Balkans when its segment of South Stream is brought into operation."
He made the comments after Russian deputy prime minister in charge of energy Igor Sechin last week indicated that Russia could drop South Stream altogether, but his colleagues later refuted that statement.
Putin earlier this month floated the idea of building liquefied natural gas terminals on the Black Sea to supplement the pipeline, but analysts said that conflicted with the purpose of the pipeline project.
South Stream was originally promoted as an easy way to export gas across the region bypassing the busy Bosporus strait, while ships carrying Russian liquefied natural gas would congest the strait.
Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko last week sought to alleviate fears of South Stream falling through, saying that that LNG project was too expensive. Some analysts believe the LNG idea was a way of putting pressure on Turkey to support the pipeline project.
Another leg of the 3,600-kilometer (2,237-mile) pipeline would run from Bulgaria to Greece and Italy, bypassing Ukraine, which has had energy disputes with Russia that prompted cuts of Russian gas deliveries to Europe.
Slovenia and Russia during Putin's visit were expected to sign an agreement for the creation of a company to operate the pipeline passing through Slovenia. Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Greece, Italy, Croatia and Austria have also signed agreements supporting the pipeline.
Putin heads Wednesday to Serbia to meet with officials about the pipeline.
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Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed from Moscow.