* European raids on Gazprom units stoke tensions
* Putin warns he is watching situation closely
* Russian gas exports to Europe up 25 bcm on year
* Gazprom CEO says export to Asia set to grow
(Adds Gazprom CEO on export to Asia)
By Thomas Grove
MOSCOW, Oct 3 Russia's Vladimir Putin said
Moscow was paying close attention to recent European raids on
Gazprom subsidiaries, which have been linked to
concerns in Brussels over the continent's dependence on supplies
of Siberian natural gas.
The prime minister told the gas export monopoly to cooperate
with European authorities, who ordered searches on units in
central and eastern Europe last week as part of a probe into
firms involved in the supply, transmission and storage of
"The government of Russia will follow what is going on
around Gazprom in the most attentive way," Putin told Gazprom
Chief Executive Alexei Miller in a meeting at his Novo-Ogaryovo
residence outside Moscow on Monday.
Moscow wants to keep a firm grip on one of the world's
biggest gas markets. Russia is opening the 55 billion cubic
metre capacity Nord Stream pipeline to Europe this week and
plans to build another massive pipeline through southern Europe.
Europe, meanwhile, is likely to be more dependent than ever
on Russian gas supplies as Germany phases out its nuclear power
and other EU countries shelve plans to build reactors.
The European Union's executive commission said the raids
were linked to suspicions over anti-competitive practices.
Sources on both sides said they were linked to EU efforts to
reduce reliance on Russian gas, which makes up about a quarter
of Europe's supplies.
Miller said Gazprom, Russia's biggest company and the
largest gas exporter in the world, was ready to defend its
rights according to law.
"You must cooperate with the authorities of the countries,
where you work, and it is necessary to be open and help the
agencies who are carrying out the checks and supply them with
objective and full information," Putin said.
Putin, who said late last month that he will run for
president in an election next year, told Miller he wanted to be
kept up to date on the situation with Europe and asked how
Gazprom is diversifying its exports away from Europe.
"The volumes of Russian gas planned for purchases by our
Asian partners may in the medium term exceed volumes supplied to
the European market," Miller said.
Miller, who called the raids an "unpleasant surprise", said
Nord Stream was due to start pumping gas on Nov. 8.
Nord Stream, which will pump gas into Germany, and the
planned South Stream pipeline to be laid on the bed of the Black
Sea have raised fears in Europe over Russia's increasing stake
in supplying the continent.
Russian gas exports to Europe grew by 25 billion cubic
metres in the first nine months of the year, Miller said.
"The growth of consumption is tied first of all to growth of
deliveries of gas to the countries that are the economic leaders
of the European Union. The tendency we are seeing will continue
with a growth in Russian gas volumes to Europe," he said.
Moscow's critics say Russia could use its position in the
gas market as a bargaining chip in political disputes.
Europe was badly hit in 2006 and 2009 when gas supplies were
turned off after a pricing dispute between Moscow and transit
country Ukraine, the route for around 80 percent of Gazprom's
exports to Europe.
Those disputes largely underpinned the conception of the
European Union-backed Nabucco pipeline, the chief European rival
to Russia's South Stream. Nabucco aims to pump 31 billion cubic
metres of a gas a year through Turkey and on to Europe.
Supplies from the rich Caspian Sea region, especially in
Azerbaijan, are being eyed by western firms, which want to
reshape the make-up of Europe's gas imports.
Competition among three major pipeline consortia eager to
export gas from the second phase of production at Azerbaijan's
Shah-Deniz natural gas field to Europe heated up ahead of an
Oct. 1 deadline for them to submit bids.
Even with a new map being drawn of European energy supplies,
Russian pipeline exports are expected to dwarf those of rivals.
Plans by Germany to phase out nuclear power plants by 2022
because of fears tied to a nuclear disaster in Japan have led to
calls to reinforce joint action over the bloc's energy security
(Editing by Steve Gutterman and Jane Baird)