Putin visits Schroeder for signing of gas pipeline deal

President Vladimir Putin was headed to Germany on Thursday for meetings with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and to sign an agreement on a Baltic Sea gas pipeline aimed at boosting Russia's gas sales to Europe.

Russian news reports said Putin was expected to meet opposition leader Angela Merkel, whom Schroeder trails in the ongoing election campaign. Observers have said the two leaders were eager to conclude the pipeline agreement before a possible change of government in Germany.

The pipeline would allow Russian gas to bypass current routes through Poland, Belarus and Ukraine, reports the AP.

According to RIA Novosti, the Kremlin representative said that energy cooperation was a priority in Russian-German contacts. "Germany is known to cover 30% of its energy needs with supplies from Russia," he said.

Moreover, he said that the document was part of preparations for Russia's presidency of the Group of Eight industrialized nations.

The construction of the pipeline, which will be laid on the Baltic Sea floor from Russia to Germany, will begin in fall 2005 and be completed in 2010. With a throughput capacity of 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year, the project is expected to cost 2 billion euros.

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