Aleksei Miller, the CEO of Russian energy giant Gazprom, said on Tuesday that Gazprom had finally decided on the route of its South Stream gas pipeline, revealing that on the way to Italy the pipeline would also cross Slovenia. Slovenian Economy Minister Andrej Vizjak denied for Slovene news agency STA that any concrete agreements had been reached on the deal.

According to media reports, including by the French press agency AFP, Miller said at the European business congress in Deauville that the pipeline would run from Russia under the Black Sea to Bulgaria, from where its northwestern route would cross Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia and Austria. The pipeline's southwestern route would reach Italy through Greece.

The inclusion of Austria and Slovenia into the project, which is considered as a rival to the EU- and US-backed Nabucco pipeline, is said to have been agreed on at the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum last weekend.

Slovenian Economy Minister Andrej Vizjak responded to the news later Tuesday by saying that Slovenia had not yet reached any concrete agreements with Gazprom on the deal, but added that in principle Slovenia was very much interested in taking part in the project.

He explained that before any contracts are signed, certain details need to be resolved. Slovenian representatives discussed these details during Miller's last visit to Slovenia in mid-April, Vizjak added.

The South Stream gas pipeline, which is planned to carry 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually, is a joint project of Gazprom and Italian energy company Eni. Deliveries through the pipeline, which is expected to cost between EUR 7 billion and EUR 10 billion or by some estimates even twice as much, are scheduled to start by 2013.

(C) 2008 BBC Monitoring European. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved