President Vladmir Putin said Wednesday Russia will consider a Dutch request to help build a pipeline from its booming gas fields to northern Europe. Speaking near the end of a two-day state visit to the Netherlands, Putin said Russia was "very interested in expanding the number of participants who will take part in laying the new gas pipeline in Europe."
The project also includes the laying of communications lines on the floor of the North Sea, and would include building gas storage facilities in several European countries, he said.
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende acknowledged Dutch interest in the project. "We know the discussion is over the involvement of Britain. We are very interested in the developments and we will definitely push on with these talks," he said.
Putin's talks with the Dutch government and business leaders came two months after Russia sealed a deal with Germany to build a Baltic Sea pipeline.
The Dutch have long been big players in Russia's energy sector, with Royal Dutch Shell developing huge gas and oil projects around Sakhalin Island in the Russian Far East.
Putin said trade with the Netherlands was expected to grow from US$16 billion (Ђ13.32 billion) last year to US$25 billion (Ђ20.82 billion) this year, making the Netherlands one of Russia's largest trade partners.
On political issues, Putin pledged to remain tough on terrorism, saying any sign of weakness would translate into more victims.
"We have to act in a more civil manner but we cannot allow them (terrorists ) to use the institutions of democracy to fight democracy," Putin told Dutch reporters who questioned him closely on human rights issues.
In his hour-long talk with Putin, Balkenende said he had raised the disappearance of humanitarian workers in Russian territory, but said the question of safeguarding human rights was sensitive and required continuing discussions, the AP reports.
Russian and Dutch delegations signed four agreements on various aspects of economic, trade and cultural cooperation.