Russia is in talks with Turkmenistan over plans for a cross-border gas pipeline that will run through Taliban-controlled areas in a bid to weaken Europe's future gas project, a report said on Saturday.
The Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan, which sits atop the world's fourth-biggest natural gas reserves, is looking to diversify energy supplies and is pushing to revive plans to build a pipeline to deliver gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India.
Russia's top energy official, Igor Sechin, told reporters Gazprom was ready to participate in it as a contractor, designer or consortium member, Kommersant business daily reported, referring to the so-called Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline.
Sechin accompanied President Dmitry Medvedev on a two-day visit to Turkmenistan earlier this week.
"If Gazprom becomes a participant then we will study possibilities of working in gas sales," Sechin was quoted as saying.
"No investor has shown such boldness yet," said the report, noting Gazprom was willing to sink money into a "rather risky project" to weaken Europe's efforts to build a pipeline that would bypass Russia.
In 2002, regional governments agreed to build a 1,700-kilometre (1,060-mile) pipeline to deliver Turkmen gas to Pakistan and India via Afghanistan but the project stalled because of the raging Taliban insurgency.
The project has gained momentum following a series of recent high-level talks and an August agreement between Turkmenistan and Afghanistan to move the project forward.
Analysts have long said that gas giant Gazprom is a political tool and sometimes the sole purpose of its international deals is to cripple a rival project at the expense of economic sense.
Europe wants to lessen its dependence on Russian gas supplies and plans to build Nabucco, a European Union-led project which envisages a pipeline bypassing Russia and sending gas from the Caucasus and Central Asia to Western Europe.
Russian officials have on occasion shown disdain for the Nabucco project, wondering where the gas to fill it will come from even if it is built, and worked to lock in supplies from countries like Azerbaijan to deprive the Nabucco pipeline of its potential supply base.
Gazprom had until recently been Turkmenistan's main gas buyer. Much to the chagrin of Turkmenistan, Moscow has dramatically reduced its purchases of Turkmen gas following sagging demand in Europe.