, ABUJA, Jun 25 – Russia is ready to invest billions of dollars in Nigeria, President Dmitry Medvedev said Wednesday as Moscow flagged up its bid to challenge Chinese and Western influence across Africa.
In a first visit by a Kremlin leader to the west African energy powerhouse, the two countries signed a raft of agreements with Russian gas giant Gazprom unveiling plans to link vast reserves in Nigeria to Europe via a Trans-Saharan pipeline.
"The basis for such work for years to come has been put in place today," Medvedev told reporters after talks with President Umaru Yar\’Adua in Abuja.
"The prospects are very good," the Kremlin chief said. Russian potential investment in Nigerian energy sector could be worth "billions of dollars."
Yar\’Adua said that the signing "provides a great opportunity" that would take Russian-Nigerian ties to new heights.
"If the Trans-Saharan gas project is ever realised, this will be the first trunk pipeline," its chief Boris Ivanov told reporters.
"The company has essentially started its work… Whoever is located on the valves is the king."
The agreement signed between Gazprom International and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) "established a 50/50 joint venture which will pursue joint projects in oil, gas, gas processing and transportation, among other things," he said.
Gazprom is set on further reinforcing its position as a cornerstone supplier for Europe and North America.
The company admitted it was way behind its foreign competitors in Africa, but was ready to mount a challenge to companies like Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron and ExxonMobil in Nigeria.
Ivanov said "Europe not only knows, it is \’worried\’ about this plan."
The joint enterprise to be known as NIGAZ will control the pipeline, he added.
Construction of the first 360-kilometre (200-mile) stretch of the 4,128-kilometre pipeline — from Nigeria via Niger and Algeria — is to start next year.
Nigeria, which holds the largest gas reserves in Africa, is currently the third largest African producer, after Algeria and Egypt.
Medvedev said Nigeria and Russia needed to work closely to ensure global energy security.
Russia and Nigeria are "natural partners on energy" among the world\’s leading oil producers, the two leaders said after their talks in the administrative capital Abuja.
Russia is also negotiating to build a nuclear power plant in Nigeria.
The broad agreement allows for the construction of a nuclear station and a research reactor.
"We have in principle agreed that we need to create conditions" for cooperation in nuclear projects, said Sergei Kiriyenko, chief of Russian nuclear state corporation Rosatom.
The pact, prepared in "record short time," underlined the effects of a crippling electricity power crisis, Kiriyenko added.
Russia could also explore for uranium in Nigeria although the lack of clear data on reserves was holding back cooperation in that sphere, he said.
Unlike in Nigeria, work on uranium exploration is in full swing in Namibia — the next stop in Medvedev\’s Africa tour.
Taken together, deals also covering cooperation in space, telecoms and geological prospecting underline Russian strategic moves to challenge Chinese and Western interests in Africa.
Moscow\’s ties with former client states came to a sudden halt with the Soviet collapse but the Kremlin has now emphasised its wish to revive relationships in Africa, rich in oil, gas, diamonds, metals and uranium.
Medvedev, who was greeted with a machine-gun salute at Yar\’Adua\’s palm-lined villa in Abuja, will also visit Angola — which last year shaded Nigeria for the title of Africa\’s largest oil producer.