Specialists from the International Energy Agency and Oxford University Monday told a Washington forum that despite European Union efforts to diversify sources, Russia's Gazprom is likely to retain its dominant position in supplying gas to Western Europe. VOA's Barry Wood reports.

Nicholas Van Agt from the Paris-based IEA says Gazprom is opposed to a European Union backed plan to build a gas pipeline across the Caspian Sea that would bring Turkman and Kazakh gas to Turkey and Western Europe.

He says Gazprom would prefer to see Europe's continued reliance on Soviet-era pipelines that feed Central Asian gas into the Russian distribution system. Van Agt says that Gazprom is implementing this strategy by having already made long-term purchases of Turkmen gas. Both Central Asian republics have huge gas reserves and want to boost their exports to Europe.

Gazprom is by far the biggest foreign supplier of gas to Western Europe. Worried that it could become excessively reliant on a single supplier, the European Union is actively promoting the Nabucco pipeline that would run from eastern Turkey to Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria. This line could supply gas from various sources including Russia, Central Asia, and Iran.

Jennifer Coolidge, an energy specialist at Oxford University, says it is not only Europe but also China and India that seek to tap Caspian basin gas. She is not optimistic that a much-discussed pipeline from Iran across Pakistan to India will soon be built. If it is built, Coolidge says it will likely not be extended from India eastward to China. "It still remains to be seen, despite the (recent) agreement on price (of the gas) whether this (pipeline) actually will go forward. I think it would be wholly less likely that it will ever go forward and go on to China," she said.

Both experts say that Gazprom's objectives are fully compatible with Russian foreign policy, which aims at maximizing Russia's position as a leading exporter of oil and gas. Van Agt says Gazprom is sponsoring a new pipeline from Russia across the Baltic Sea to Germany to gain direct access to an important market. "I think obviously Gazprom is increasing its options to reach its preferred premium market in Europe without potential interference by transit states," he said.

Currently most Russian gas transits Poland on its way to Western Europe. While Western European gas demand is rising, following the brief 2006 Russian cut off of gas to Ukraine, the EU is seeking alternative supplies. Russia, say the researchers, is making that quest for diversification more difficult in Central Asia.