Oil Report

Putin will not attend Black Sea energy conference

MOSCOW, Apr 21 (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will not attend an energy summit of Black Sea nations in Sofia this week and will instead meet his Bulgarian counterpart in Moscow next week, Putin’s spokesman said on Tuesday.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the change of plan did not imply any problems with Moscow’s negotiations with Bulgaria and other key nations on a major new gas pipeline from Russia to Europe, known as South Stream.

“Work is going on in a very constructive atmosphere,” Peskov said. “Sooner or later, we expect agreements ... this is a very complicated project. That is not a secret.”

U.S. and European Union officials have privately criticised South Stream, saying it will increase European dependency on Russian gas exports. Europe already counts on Russia for a quarter of its natural gas.

The EU is instead promoting a rival scheme to use Central Asian gas, known as Nabucco, and both Brussels and Moscow have been competing to sign up potential transit countries and suppliers for their respective pipelines.

Peskov said that, with Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev due in Moscow on April 28, it made no sense in terms of protocol for Putin to visit him in Sofia only a few days earlier.

“It was considered that it will be better, if Stanishev is coming here ... to discuss the whole situation taking into account the results of the conference,” Peskov said.

Moscow will instead send Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko to the Black Sea conference.

South Stream, a project led by Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom GAZP.MM, would allow Moscow to bypass Ukraine in sending gas to Europe. Italian energy firm Eni SpA ENI.MI is also participating in the project.

Gazprom said in January it might increase the planned capacity of the pipeline to 47 billion cubic metres a year from the earlier estimate of 31 billion cubic metres. A feasibility study of the entire route is expected by mid-2010.

Nabucco has so far received scant financial commitment and has only a fifth of the gas commitments needed to be viable. (Reporting by Michael Stott; editing by Sue Thomas)