Russia willing to up winter gas flow to Turkey if asked

KARASU, Turkey Sun Dec 2, 2012 9:55am EST

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KARASU, Turkey (Reuters) - Russia would be willing to increase its gas supplies to Turkey this winter if Ankara asked it to and an agreement was reached, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Sunday.

"As has happened many times in the past, we have always helped Turkey when they have experienced problems managing during the winter," Novak told reporters during a visit to the Turkish Black Sea town of Karasu east of Istanbul.

"If needed and a joint agreement was reached, it is possible to do this again," he said.

Turkey's Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told Reuters last month Ankara planned to enable state pipeline company Botas to buy natural gas on the spot market, a move that would help it meet demand during harsh winters.

A country of 75 million people, Turkey has limited underground storage capacity and faces difficulties meeting high demand as temperatures plunge in the winter months. Energy ministry officials say daily demand could rise to near 220 million cubic meters this winter from 125 million.

Turkey is Russian Gazprom's second-largest natural gas consumer after Germany.

Last week, Gazprom clinched a long-term deal to export natural gas to private companies in Turkey, securing a growing market for the Russian gas export monopoly as it faces declines from its core consumers in the European Union.

The move followed a one-year impasse in gas trade between Gazprom and Turkish firms after Botas did not renew an expiring 25-year contract at the end of 2011 due to a pricing dispute.

Business has continued in the meantime only on a short-term basis.

Turkey, which is likely to overtake Britain as Europe's third-biggest electricity consumer within a decade and become an energy trading hub, is struggling to diversify its gas suppliers. It is largely dependent on the fuel because it produces the majority of its electricity via natural gas.

Novak was speaking at the opening ceremony of Russian carmaker GAZ's new factory in Karasu, some 200 km (125 miles) east of Istanbul, which will assemble commercial vehicles.

His visit comes a day before Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives in Turkey for talks on energy and the ongoing crisis in Syria, which has strained ties between the two powers because of differences over how to resolve the conflict.

(Reporting by Evrim Ergin; Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Helen Massy-Beresford)

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