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Russia's Gazprom seeks more capacity to transport gas through Ukraine -Naftogaz

WASHINGTON, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Russia’s gas exporting monopoly Gazprom recently approached Naftogaz, Ukraine’s state natural gas firm, about booking more capacity to transport gas to Europe, a sign Gazprom is worried that U.S. sanctions are targeting its pipeline project to avoid Ukraine, the head of Naftogaz said on Thursday.

“Gazprom approached us over the summer asking us for more capacity, to be booked,” on Ukraine’s gas transport system, Andriy Kobolyev, Naftogaz’s chief executive, told Reuters while on a visit to Washington.

Gazprom had already booked 65 billion cubic meters of capacity in 2020, Kobolyev did not say how much more it wanted.

Gazprom is hoping to finish the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline project that would bypass Ukraine, which charges Gazprom transit fees. The pipeline was halted late last year by U.S. sanctions.

“If Nord Stream 2 is not launched then they will likely have to book additional capacity for next year,” Kobolyev said.

Gazprom did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Russian pipe-laying vessel, which Gazprom hopes will complete a final segment, was headed this week toward a German hub which stores pipes for the project.

The Trump administration, like the Obama administration, has opposed the project, arguing it would increase Russia’s influence in Europe. But Germany and other countries say it is a commercial project.

U.S. lawmakers are working on new U.S. sanctions on the pipeline. Kobolyev met with U.S. officials pushing for those. “Our aim is to make sure that there’s no option for this project to be finished,” he said.

The sanctions are likely to be included in the annual U.S. defense policy bill, though some Democratic lawmakers, including Representative Eliot Engel, the leader of House Foreign Affairs, are pushing back.

Engel is against Nord Stream 2, but said in July the sanctions could leave Russia “off the hook” while hitting Western companies financing the project and gas-consuming allies. Tim Mulvey, an Engel spokesman, said sanctions negotiations are ongoing.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; editing by David Evans

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