Uzbekistan advances natural gas price for Russia

Russia's natural gas monopoly Gazprom has agreed to pay 25 percent more for natural gas from Uzbekistan, an official said Saturday. Gazprom chief Alexei Miller agreed to the price hike Friday during a visit to the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, said an official from the Uzbek state energy company Uzbekneftegaz, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the press.

He said the price increased by a quarter to US$60 (Ђ50) per thousand cubic meters. Uzbek state media reported that Miller met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov and Uzbekneftegaz chairman Abdusalom Azizov to negotiate the deal. The results of the talks weren't reported.

In 2005, Gazprom had planned to buy 8 billion cubic meters (282 billion cubic feet) of Uzbek natural gas. Russian oil and gas companies have recently stepped up activity in Uzbekistan as the ex-Soviet republic's authoritarian President Islam Karimov has edged closer to Russia, irritated by Western criticism of a brutal crackdown on mass protests in the eastern city of Andijan last year.

Uzbekneftegaz and Gazprom plan to strike a US$1 billion (Ђ850 million) deal this year to explore prospective natural gas deposits in western Uzbekistan. Gazprom also intends to invest in the renovation of the Soviet-built gas pipeline system that makes Uzbekistan a focal point of gas imports from resource-rich Central Asia. Uzbekistan currently extracts 55 billion cubic meters (about 2 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas a year, reports the AP. N.U.