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Sonia turns Sakhalin-III in India`s favour

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Congress President Sonia Gandhi is said to have played a key role in persuading Russian President Vladimir Putin to support ONGC Videsh's bid for a 20 per cent stake in the oil- and gas-rich Sakhalin-III project.

A senior official in the petroleum ministry said Gandhi made a strong case for India during her meeting with Putin, and it was only after this that Putin took the decisive step of supporting ONGC Videsh's bid.

Petroleum minister Murli Deora, who was also present at the meeting between Gandhi and Putin, had said late yesterday that Gandhi had raised the issue of India's energy security in her discussions with Putin, following which Putin instructed his companies to get into commercial negotiations with ONGC Videsh.

Putin, who was on a state visit to India as special invitee for the Republic Day celebrations, met oil ministry and industry officials in the afternoon. However, his response to ONGC Vidhesh's bid at that time was, according to petroleum ministry sources, "extremely non-committal" and his assurance came only after his meeting with Mrs Gandhi.

After the meeting with Gandhi, Putin said he would "support" the involvement of ONGC Videsh in Sakhalin-III. Pointing out that Sakhalin-I, in which ONGC Videsh has a stake, has been successful, Putin said that there was growing interest from Indian companies for Sakhalin-III, which would be as successful as Sakhalin-I.

ONGC Videsh Ltd, the overseas investment arm of exploration giant Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), has been seeking a stake in the oil and gas rich Sakhalin-III project in eastern Russia for a while now.

Sakhalin-I, in which it owns a stake, is a $17 billion oil and gas development led by ExxonMobil and involves Russian company Rosneft. The project is likely to give India 2.4 million tonnes of oil a year.

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