CORRECTED: France's EDF to join South Stream pipeline project: Putin
Russia and Italy will bring French energy group EDF into their South Stream pipeline project in June, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in Italy on Monday.
"We have given our agreement to the introduction of the French partner into the (South Stream) project," Putin told a joint news conference with his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi.
The accord will be signed in Saint Petersburg in June, he said, adding that EDF has said it wanted a 20 percent stake in the project to run a pipeline under the Black Sea from Russia to Bulgaria.
"Of course this will increase the energy stability and security in Europe," Putin said of the project, which is co-led by the Italian and Russian energy groups Eni and Gazprom.
He also shrugged off reported criticism of Eni's role in the project, saying it had encountered "no delays so far."
Gazprom official Stanislav Tsygankov earlier this month criticised Eni for failing to carry its weight. "There's been no progress on South Stream due to the absence of adequate work by our Italian partners," he said, adding that Gazprom was "paying for everything so far."
A spokesman quickly played down the comments, however, saying the Russian group saw no "major difference of opinion in its cooperation with Eni and realisation of South Stream."
Also this year, Russia vehemently rejected an Eni proposal to merge the South Stream pipeline with the rival EU-led Nabucco plan.
Scheduled for completion in 2015, the South Stream pipeline will channel Russian gas from Novorossiisk on the Black Sea coast to western Europe, bypassing Ukraine, currently an essential link in the supply chain to Europe.
Gas remains a hugely sensitive issue between Moscow and Kiev after a bitter row in January 2009 led to Russia turning off the taps to Ukraine, which in turn left many European countries short of gas.
The cost of the 3,600-kilometre (2,200-mile) pipeline is estimated at between 19 billion and 24 billion euros (25 billion and 32 billion dollars).
It will deliver 63 billion cubic meters of gas per year, or 35 percent of Russia's exports to Europe, which obtains 42 percent of its needs from Russia.
© 2010 AFP