Russia: gas behemoth Gazprom receives exclusive control of exports

The bill, which passed its third and final reading in the State Duma by a vote of 354-64 with no abstentions, stipulates that all Russian exports of natural gas must be run through state-owned pipelines - in effect limiting Russia's lucrative gas export market solely to Gazprom.

Proponents of the Kremlin-backed measure cast the bill as a necessary response to growing foreign competition for a stake in Russia's rich natural resources.

However, news of the bill's approval is likely to rattle western officials ahead of the energy-themed summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations that Russia is hosting in St. Petersburg next week. EU officials have been pushing for Russia to offer European companies broader access to gas fields and export pipelines to reduce Gazprom's ability to charge monopolist rents on gas transported from Russia and the former Soviet Union.

An ugly gas price spat between Russia and Ukraine at the start of the year highlighted Europe's reliance on Gazprom for a quarter of its consumption and led to calls for diversification. At the climax of the dispute supplies to Europe were briefly disrupted when Russia temporarily switched off the gas to its former-Soviet neighbor, the AP reports.