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Putin: Russia, Austria to open gas storage facility

Russia and Austria will open a large natural gas storage facility with a holding capacity of 2.4 billion cubic meters near Salzburg, in western Austria, Thursday, President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday.

"Tomorrow, we will open a large gas storage facility near Salzburg able to hold 2.4 billion cubic meters of gas - a third of Austria's demands. That is a very good step toward the stabilization of our energy relations," Putin told journalists in Austria. The Russian leader praised bilateral relations, saying that "Austrian partners trust Russian partners much more than vice versa, because Austrian investment in Russia is double Russian investment in Austria." In September 2006, Russian energy giant Gazprom extended contracts to supply gas to Austria from 2012 to 2027. In line with concluded long-term contracts, Gazprom will ensure deliveries of about 7 billion cubic meters of gas annually until 2027, the amount Austria needs.

According to Kremlin aide Sergei Prikhodko, there are some 1,200 Austrian companies and 500 joint ventures currently operating in Russia, and bilateral trade between the two countries grew 45% in 2006, to $5 billion. Putin said Russia and Austria have achieved significant results in trade and economic cooperation, adding that investment cooperation is on the rise and is becoming "a two-way street." Putin also said Russia has practically resolved all problems with Russian energy transiting countries. "The problems are not in our country, but with transit countries that want to use their unique position to get unilateral advantages outside of current market relations on the basis of some preferences remaining since Soviet times. We believe it is unjust, and we are working with these partners, and on the whole we have practically agreed with everyone," the Russian leader said.

Moscow's reliability as Europe's main energy supplier was questioned in early January when a dispute between Russia and neighboring Belarus led to a three-day interruption of oil deliveries to Poland, Germany and other European consumers. At the time, Minsk imposed a transit fee on Europe-bound crude exports in retaliation for a hike in the natural gas price Moscow charged Belarus. Moscow accused Minsk of illegally tapping the transit pipeline, and shut down oil deliveries until an agreement was reached in emergency negotiations. A similar situation occurred early last year with Ukraine. (