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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gas Giants Sign $2Bln Pipeline Deal

Natural gas giant Gazprom and Gaz de France have signed an up to $2 billion pipeline agreement to boost Russian gas exports to Western European markets, company officials said Wednesday.

The deal was signed Tuesday while President Vladimir Putin was in Paris on an official visit, a Gaz de France spokesman said.

The 600-kilometer pipeline would run from Russia's Yamal gas fields through Belarus, Poland and Slovakia to Western Europe, the spokesman said. A Gazprom spokeswoman confirmed the deal.

Importantly, it would bypass Ukraine, through which about 65 percent of Russia's gas exports now travel. Ukraine is Gazprom's worst customer, owing the gas monopoly $1.4 billion to $3 billion in unpaid bills.

The figure is imprecise because Gazprom includes gas it accuses Ukraine of stealing, while the cash-starved Ukrainian government insists the figure is lower.

Russia says that Ukraine steals Russian gas and sells it to European customers at prices undercutting Gazprom.