Putin lauds gas giant Gazprom, says Asian demand will soar
MOSCOW, Feb 17 (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin on Friday lauded Russia's natural gas giant, vowing that Gazprom would thrive despite attempts by the West to cut its clout as demand for gas would rise in Asia.
Since Putin sent troops into Ukraine, the world's largest natural gas company has grappled with sharply lower gas sales to Europe as the West seeks to reduce dependence on Russian energy and reduce Russian budget revenues.
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Gazprom, which holds about 15% of global reserves and employs about 490,000 people, is one of Russia's most powerful companies - so powerful it was once known as a state within the state.
Putin said the whole of Russia was proud of Gazprom, which was founded as a stock company 30 years ago from the assets of the Soviet gas ministry as the Soviet Union crumbled.
"Despite unfair – to put it bluntly – competition, direct attempts from the outside to hinder and restrain its development, Gazprom is moving forward, launching new projects," Putin told CEO Alexei Miller.
"Over the previous 30 years, global gas consumption has almost doubled, and in the next 20 years, according to expert estimates, it will add at least another 20 percent, and maybe more," Putin said.
"In the so-called transition period, the demand will be enormous. Moreover, more than half of this increase will fall on the countries of the Asia-Pacific region, first of all, of course, on the People's Republic of China, bearing in mind the growth rates of its economy."
Putin, who spoke via video link from the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, asked Miller, who was dressed in a fur hat while standing outside Gazprom headquarters in St Petersburg with employees, if he was frozen.
"No," said Miller. (Editing by Guy Faulconbridge)