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RUSSIA - CENTRAL ASIA

Supply Side Focus for Medvedev Trip

President Dmitry Medvedev wound up a three-state energy tour with talks in Kazakhstan on Saturday and Sunday, meeting with several regional leaders to consolidate his country's monopoly on transiting Central Asian gas.

The trip to Astana, which was celebrating its 10th anniversary as the Kazakh capital and the 68th birthday of President Nursultan Nazarbayev on Sunday, came after Medvedev visited Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan to seek additional gas supplies for Gazprom, where he recently left as chairman.

Medvedev and Nazarbayev on Sunday discussed the construction of a pipeline for Caspian Sea gas through Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan and increasing the capacity of an existing line, according to a statement on the Kremlin web site. They also discussed cooperation in "nuclear energy, peaceful projects in space, and matters of CIS integration," the statement said.

Medvedev also held talks Sunday in Astana with several visiting dignitaries, including Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Jordan's King Abdullah II.

The talks followed a similar course to those held Friday in the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat. Speaking after talks with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, Medvedev underlined the need to quickly build the pipeline, which would consolidate Moscow's hold on energy transit from the region.

Russia has sought to undercut the Western push for the region's rich energy resources by buying most of its natural gas and selling it on to Europe.

Medvedev and Berdymukhammedov also issued a joint statement underlining the importance of the new pipeline along the Caspian. An agreement, Medvedev said, would be implemented "in the near future" after Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan complete the necessary formalities.

The Kremlin reached a deal with Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in December to build a new gas line along the Caspian Sea coast to Russia.

But Turkmenistan has irritated Russia by hinting that it wants to take part in the rival Nabucco pipeline to deliver gas to Europe while bypassing Russia.

But the thorny issue did not crop up in Friday's talks. "The word 'Nabucco' was not mentioned in the talks," a source in the Russian delegation said.

Speaking after his meeting with Medvedev, Berdymukhammedov said his country was committed to its gas-delivery agreement with Russia through 2025 but gave no details. Turkmenistan sells about 50 billion cubic meters of gas to Gazprom annually. Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said Russia planned to increase its purchases of Turkmen gas.

"It was a candid, constructive and friendly conversation. ... We did not aim to sign any concrete deals today," Medvedev's chief foreign policy adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, told reporters.

(The Moscow Times 7.vii.08)