Gazprom, Russia's gas monopoly, on Wednesday signed a deal in Moscow with four European energy companies to study the feasibility of constructing a $2bn (Ј1.3bn) pipeline that would substantially increase supplies of Russian gas to southern Europe and bypass existing routes through Ukraine, Financial Times writes. The agreement, with Italian oil and gas group Eni, Gaz de France and Germany's Ruhrgas and Wintershall groups, involves a pipeline to supply an additional 60bn cubic metres a year of Russian gas to Europe, on top of existing annual exports of 125bn cubic metres. The planned pipeline would run south across Poland, Belarus and Slovakia from the existing Yamal pipeline project, which will eventually carry 67bn cubic metres of gas from Siberia via Poland to Germany. The latest announcement will trigger fresh concerns from Ukraine, which is concerned that a pipeline bypassing its territory will erode its independence from Russia. Currently, most of Russia's gas pipelines travel through Ukraine, providing it with an important point of leverage in relations with its more powerful northern neighbour. But Russia has long been frustrated by Ukraine's continued theft of its gas bound for Europe, which has reached 15bn cubic metres (worth about $900m) this year, according to Gazprom.
The British press has recently reported that Russia was going to conduct a nuclear test either on the borders with Ukraine or in the Black Sea.