MOSCOW, Nov. 16 (UPI) -- Slovenian and Russian officials signed a cooperation agreement that sets the stage for the construction of the South Stream natural gas pipeline.
Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko signed an agreement on cooperation for South Stream with his Slovenian counterpart, Matej Lahovnik, during a weekend summit.
Moscow includes South Stream, along with its Nord Stream counterpart, as part of a plan to ease the transit burden on Ukraine, which hosts the bulk of the Russian gas bound for Europe currently. A January row between Kiev and Moscow sparked a gas crisis that still plagues the regional energy sector.
The South Stream project is designed to bring 1.09 trillion cubic feet of gas to the Balkans each year.
Officials from Russian gas giant Gazprom said the bilateral agreement paved the way for the construction of the $36.5 billion pipeline, the Interfax news agency reports.
Lahovnik said pipeline construction would develop under the authority of a joint venture between Gazprom and Slovenia's Geoplin Plinovodi.
Gazprom signed a series of South Stream initiatives with the Bulgarian, Greek and Serbian governments in May and has similar arrangements under way with Austria.