Russia's Medvedev Heads to Nigeria

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) - Russia's president said Wednesday his
nation's investment in Nigeria could stretch into the billions of
dollars, as the two nations signed deals on nuclear energy, gas and
oil exploration in Africa largest oil producer.

Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev was on his first trip to the West
African nation. The deals pave the way for Russia to build power
plants, pipelines to export gas, and explore energy deposits,
officials said.

"If we carry out all our plans, Russian investment in Nigeria
can reach billions of dollars," Medvedev said.

Medvedev began his tour in Egypt Tuesday and left Nigeria's
capital, Abuja for the southern African nations of Namibia and
Angola, both rich in uranium and diamonds.

Under one of the deals, Russia's state natural gas supplier
Gazprom and Nigeria's main oil company agreed to create a joint
venture to explore and produce oil and gas in Africa's most
populous country. Gazprom's chief in Nigeria has said the Russian
firm would invest $2.5 billion in the new venture.

Sergei Novikov, a spokesman for Russia's state-run civil nuclear
energy agency, Rosatom, said earlier that agreements signed
Wednesday will also pave the way for the construction of nuclear
power reactors in Nigeria.

Nigeria presidential spokesman Olusegun Adeniyi said the nuclear
deal was aimed at the "the peaceful use of nuclear energy,
especially for the purpose of electricity."

Nigeria has frequently said it would like to build a nuclear
power plant to address its chronic power shortages, partially
caused by poor management and maintenance of its electricity
infrastructure.

Nigeria has nuclear materials for research and medical purposes,
including in a reactor, that are regularly inspected by the
International Atomic Energy Agency, the Vienna-based nuclear
watchdog for the United Nations. The United States signed an accord
with Nigeria's nuclear agency in 2005 agreeing to pay for tighter
security at sites where radioactive materials are kept.

Russia is a major builder of nuclear power plants and producer
of nuclear fuel.

"Nigeria believes there is much to gain from close ties with
Russia given its oil and gas industry," Adeniyi said.

Russia is also expected to push forward the construction of a
trans-African pipeline that would send Nigerian gas to Europe.
Should the deal go through, Gazprom could gain control over
Nigeria's gas resources, which would strip European consumers of a
possible alternative to Russian gas supplies.

The deal comes at a difficult time for Gazprom as production is
declining and the severe financial crisis is forcing it to delay
the launch of major new gas fields that would supply Europe with
energy. The Nigeria agreement, however, would be likely to give
Gazprom plenty of time to line up the funds.

Russian mining and oil companies have been active in Africa in
recent years. But the Russian business presence has not been
matched by the Kremlin's recognition of Africa as a key business
partner.

"Russia has a number of goals (to pursue in Africa), one of
which would be to take part in a growing competition for resources
and markets on the continent - mainly with China," said Yaroslav
Lissovolik, chief economist with Deutsche Bank in Moscow.

Medvedev's visit will be the second Russian presidential visit
to sub-Saharan Africa and the first one in more than three years.

A major battlefield in the Cold War, Africa lost importance for
Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed and the current volume of
trade is paltry. But a newly assertive Russian leadership has been
trying to reclaim a global role.

In Namibia, Russia is expected to seek supply deals for uranium.

The head of Russian diamond monopoly Alrosa, which has operated
in Angola since 1990, also is joining Medvedev on his trip.

Others, such as the struggling Russian carmaker GAZ, will be
looking for new markets for their products.

"Ties with Africa were utterly destroyed after the fall of the
Soviet Union," said Sergei Mikheyev, an analyst at the
Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies. "It is laughable
to say that Russia will conquer Africa and its markets in one
visit, squeezing out the Chinese or Americans from there. But this
is a start."


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