Sechin Leads Team To OPEC Summit

Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin arrived in Vienna on Tuesday as the head of the highest-level delegation that Russia has ever sent to take part in an OPEC conference.

Accompanied by Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko, Sechin was expected to use the meetings Tuesday evening to discuss sliding oil prices and reassure partners on the stability of Russia's energy exports.

The visit came as calls resurfaced in the European Union to end its dependence on energy supplies from Russia, the world's second-largest oil exporter, in the wake of the diplomatic standoff over the conflict with Georgia.

Sechin was scheduled to meet with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries' secretary-general, Abdalla Salem El-Badri, before the 149th conference kicked off, a spokeswoman for the organization said.

The spokeswoman, Zoreli Figueroa, declined further comment.

Sechin, who oversees the oil and gas industry, was also due to address OPEC delegations late Tuesday with a speech to say Russia was committed to remaining a reliable energy supplier, a source familiar with the situation said.

Russia is building an eastward oil pipeline that will supply Asian markets starting late next year, and Sechin will reiterate earlier promises that Western markets will not suffer as a result, the source said on condition of anonymity.

"Predictability, transparency and guarantees of reliability are what Sechin will talk about," the source said.

Previously, a deputy minister responsible for energy has represented Russia at OPEC conferences.

One reason Russia has moved to establish closer contact with OPEC is an effort to keep prices at a reasonable level, said Simon Wardell, an analyst at Global Insight, a London-based consultancy.

Prices have tumbled in the past few months from all-time highs as the U.S. economy slowed down. OPEC members Venezuela and Iran have called on the organization to approve a drop in the output Tuesday to keep the price above $100 per barrel. Other members, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Nigeria, have spoken in favor of maintaining production.

Better relations with OPEC could also help Russia advance the idea of creating a group for gas exporting countries, sometimes referred to as the "gas OPEC," Wardell said. Some OPEC members, such as Qatar, are also major gas exporters.

In addition, the conference gives Russia a chance to speak about energy security in a friendly setting, Wardell said.

"A forum like OPEC ... is one where they can again go onto a more global stage and talk more about cooperation," he said. "It's, maybe, a fairly comfortable forum for them to discuss this type of issue without being the source of potential argument that you can get in when talking directly to Europe."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged Europe earlier this month to prevent Russia's "energy stranglehold" by dedicating more money to arrange supplies that bypass Russia.