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Gazprom says South Stream making progress

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Alexei Miller, Chief Executive of Russian state controlled company Gazprom, arrives at an international meeting on the European gas crisis in Moscow on January 17, 2009. The conference at the Kremlin failed to bring an agreement to restore supplies of Russian natural gas via Ukraine. (UPI Photo/Anatoli Zhdanov) | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/ec1fc003ca2abe899ba1e9594cbb3a28/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Alexei Miller, Chief Executive of Russian state controlled company Gazprom, arrives at an international meeting on the European gas crisis in Moscow on January 17, 2009. The conference at the Kremlin failed to bring an agreement to restore supplies of Russian natural gas via Ukraine. (UPI Photo/Anatoli Zhdanov) | License Photo

ZURICH, Switzerland, March 12 (UPI) -- The South Stream natural gas pipeline for Europe is making steady progress, Alexei Miller, chairman of Russian energy company Gazprom, said.

Miller briefed members of the South Stream supervisory board in Zurich, Switzerland, to review the pipeline's progress.

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"The South Stream project is steadily progressing," he said in a statement Tuesday. "Contracts for laying the first string as well as for procuring pipes for the second string will be signed before the end of this March."

Gazprom said it plans to commission parts of South Stream before the end of 2015. The pipeline is designed to have an annual capacity of 2.2 trillion cubic feet.

Gazprom envisions South Stream as a means to add diversity to an export market that depends on Soviet-era gas transit networks through Ukraine, where geopolitical tensions add a layer of risk to Russia's export options.

Ukraine descended into chaos when ousted President Viktor Yanukovych suspended efforts to sign free trade and association deals with the European Union. EU leaders have since embraced the post-Yanukovych government in Kiev, though Moscow has expressed questions over its legitimacy.

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European Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger told German newspaper Die Welt earlier this week talks over South Stream were on hold because of the Ukrainian crisis.

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