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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kazakhs Hail Nuclear Joint Venture

Itar-TassNazarbayev and Putin talking at a meeting Monday. The two leaders discussed joint ventures in the energy sector.
President Vladimir Putin and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev agreed Monday to expand their countries' nuclear efforts in what Nazarbayev touted as "a new landmark in cooperation."

Nazarbayev said the two countries would start the joint exploration of uranium mines in Kazakhstan, as well as the joint enrichment and production of nuclear fuel.

"I think this will be a new landmark in our cooperation," Nazarbayev said after talks in the Kremlin.

Nazarbayev said he had invited Putin to visit Kazakhstan this summer to discuss how to implement the agreements.

He said any third country wishing to develop its peaceful nuclear industry would be welcome to use the fuel.

In December, Russia and Kazakh­stan, the biggest uranium producers in the former Soviet Union, opened the Zarechnoye mine in southern Kazakh­stan. Both nations have a 45-percent stake in the venture, in which Russia shares technical know-how with Kazakhstan in exchange for uranium needed to plug a deficit at home.

Putin and Nazarbayev also discussed increasing cooperation in energy and space.

"We consider it important to focus our efforts on the most popular areas of cooperation -- energy, first and foremost," Putin said, Interfax reported.

The two leaders discussed the transit of energy resources and the creation of joint ventures to promote innovations in the fuel and energy industry, Putin said, without giving further details.

In comments broadcast on Channel One television, Putin called for the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which Russia leases from Kazakhstan, to be used more effectively and for "the exploration of Caspian resources."

Nazarbayev's two-day working visit, which ends Tuesday, comes amid intensifying competition for Kazakh­stan's energy resources.

Moscow, anxious for Kazakhstan to remain in its realm of influence, is irritated by its projects with the West, which exclude Russia.

In June, Kazakhstan joined the U.S-backed Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline running from Azerbaijan to Turkey and bypassing Russia. And in May, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney paid a high-profile visit to Kazakhstan to lobby for U.S. energy interests.

In comments that appeared to allay Russia's concerns, Nazarbayev said Kazakhstan and Russia were "not competitors but partners." He said Kazakh­stan shipped 43 million tons of oil and 24 billion cubic meters of gas to Russia last year.

The European Union has also discussed the possibility of a Europe-bound gas pipeline that would skirt Russia.

Energy could also top talks this week between Putin and the presidents of two other former Soviet

republics. Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported Monday that Putin would play host this week to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and meet separately with Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

A Kremlin spokesman said Yushchenko might visit Russia this week but that it was unclear whether he would meet Putin. The spokesman said he did not know anything about Lukashenko.

Over the past year or so, Ukraine and Belarus have been caught in heated disputes with Russia over Gazprom's demands that they pay higher prices for Russian gas.