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Russia set to profit from Libya, Japan crises

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin listens to RosAtom (State Nuclear Energy Corporation) head Sergei Kiriyenko, unseen, during a meeting to discuss nuclear energy following the earthquake in Japan which damaged nuclear plants in Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow on Tuesday, March 15, 2011. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, pool)
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin listens to RosAtom (State Nuclear Energy Corporation) head Sergei Kiriyenko, unseen, during a meeting to discuss nuclear energy following the earthquake in Japan which damaged nuclear plants in Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow on Tuesday, March 15, 2011. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, pool) (Alexei Druzhinin - AP)

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By NATALIYA VASILYEVA
The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 22, 2011; 5:02 PM

MOSCOW -- Only a year ago, Russia's dominance as a global energy supplier was threatened by low gas prices and a reputation as an unreliable trade partner. But with the world now shaken by Japan's natural disasters and uprisings across the Middle East, the country is back at the heart of the market - and cashing in.

Russia's state-owned monopoly Gazprom rushed to sell extra gas to European nations when their supplies from Libya ran dry during the escalating violence there. It will also gain from selling energy to Japan, where an earthquake and tsunami have shut down 12 gigawatts of nuclear capacity.

Gazprom told the Associated Press on Tuesday it is willing to ship more gas to Japan and is now in talks with several power-generating companies such as Tokyo Electric to sell them liquefied natural gas.

Japan's struggle to keep radiation from leaking at the Fukushima nuclear plant, meanwhile, has caused a deep rethink in the role of nuclear energy, particularly in Europe.

The upshot of the recent weeks' events, analysts say, is that fossil fuel producers stand to gain, particularly Russia.

"There's every reason to assume that these events are a game changer both for Gazprom and Russia because Russia is viewed as a much more reliable gas supplier, and the customers are more likely to want to lock in supplies," said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Moscow-based brokerage UralSib.

While its reputation has in the past been tarnished by sudden gas cut-offs due to pricing disputes with Ukraine, Gazprom - the company that handles the Russian state's gas trade - has always insisted it was reliable.

With unrest spreading across the Middle East and threatening major new sources of gas, like Algeria, that may no longer sound like an exaggeration.

Russia already provides two-fifths of Europe's gas imports, a figure could grow. Libya, by comparison, accounted for about 2 percent before its taps were turned off because of the conflict.

In Japan, where authorities are trying to avert a nuclear meltdown and find energy supplies to feed the electricity grid, Gazprom has taken the opportunity to try to gain a foothold in a market it has long been trying to crack.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said last week that Russia could re-direct Europe-bound liquefied natural gas - which can be transported by ship - to Japan while shipping more piped gas to Europe.

Moscow-based investment bank VTB Capital has estimated that events in Japan and Libya could add an extra 3 to 5 percent to Gazprom's sales this year - based on the assumption that Russia will sell an extra 10 to 15 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe and Japan.


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