Russian President Vladimir Putin May 13 signed an agreement with the Turkmen and Kazakh leaders for the construction of new gas pipeline through Russia. VOA's Barry Wood reports the accord raises further doubts about the viability of a western-backed alternative across the Caspian Sea to Turkey.

Energy analyst Vladimir Socor says in recent months the Russians have made great advances in the race for access to Central Asian gas. Both Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have vast quantities of gas that they would like to sell in Western Europe. Concerned about over reliance on Russia, European governments and the United States have been pushing for an alternative pipeline under the Caspian to send Central Asian gas to the Caucasus and Turkey. Munich-based Socor says that alternative - a line called Nabucco - is becoming a less likely option.

"It [Nabucco] has been in trouble all along because Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan were not committing themselves to Nabucco," said Socor. "Now Nabucco is in even greater trouble because Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan have made a different commitment [with the Russians]."

Socor says Russia's Gazprom is playing a skillful game in extending its control over gas exports from the former Soviet Central Asian Republics.

"Gas from third countries is being enlisted by Russia as part of Russia's gas transit system," he said. "In other words gas from third countries other than Russia will reach Europe by the grace of Russia."

Russia is by far Europe's largest supplier of natural gas used mostly for heating. Socor believes Europe is dangerously overly dependent on Russian gas. Energy analyst Alexander Wostmann in Essen, Germany disagrees.

"There is always a dependency relationship [concerning energy in Europe]," said Alexander Wostmann. "And it seems a very natural one between Russia and Europe to have this relationship, simply because there are vast reserves quite nearby."

Russia provides 40 percent of Europe's gas. In several countries that figure exceeds 60 percent.