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Russia to seal gas pact in Nigeria

ABUJA, June 24 – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrives in Nigeria Wednesday to sign gas and nuclear energy pacts, becoming the first Kremlin leader to visit Africa\’s most populous and energy-rich nation.

Russian gas giant Gazprom, keen to boost its standing as a major supplier to Europe and North America, and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) will ink a gas agreement, officials said.

Another deal would seal "cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy especially for the purpose of electricity" in a country that is struggling to overcome a lingering power crisis, said a Nigerian presidential spokesman.

The Kremlin said ahead of the visit that boosting economic ties and trade will be a major focus of the talks between Medvedev and Nigerian President Umaru Yar\’Adua.

The two sides will also sign an agreement on cooperation in space and on mutual protection of investments, the Kremlin said.

Nigeria is a member of the powerful OPEC cartel which pumps 40 percent of world oil. OPEC cut its production target three times late last year to stabilise prices that tumbled from record highs above 147 dollars in July.

"With a view to Nigeria\’s membership in OPEC and the Gas Exporting Countries forum, the presidents will discuss the issue of ensuring global energy security, as well as international cooperation in overcoming the world financial and economic crisis," said the Kremlin.

Gazprom wants a stake in Nigeria\’s vast gas deposits and is ready to invest in energy infrastructure to get that access, officials said.

The Russian gas giant is eyeing involvement in the Trans-Saharan Gas pipeline, a project aimed at sending Nigerian gas to Europe and supported by the European Union as a way to diversify its energy resources.

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Gazprom has complained it is far behind its foreign competitors in Africa, saying it is ready to mount a challenge to companies like Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron and ExxonMobil in Nigeria.

"They are planning to cover all of Nigeria with pipelines," Alexei Vasilyev, head of the Africa Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said of Gazprom.

"There is an acute need for energy in the country," said Vasilyev, who is travelling with Medvedev.

"Africa\’s oil and gas reserves are rising fast. That\’s the region with which we have to cooperate if we position ourselves as a great energy power," he said.

Nigeria and Angola — another stop on Medvedev\’s itinerary — are competing for the title of the largest oil producer in Africa.

Moscow\’s ties with its 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.

At 300 million dollars last year, trade with Nigeria is relatively insignificant. The country is Russia\’s second largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa after South Africa, the Kremlin said.

Medvedev was set to arrive in Abuja from Cairo, his second stop of his ambitious four-nation African tour also taking him to Namibia and Angola Thursday and Friday.

His predecessor Vladimir Putin became the first ever Kremlin leader to travel to sub-Saharan Africa when he visited South Africa and Morocco in 2006.

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