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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Puts Energy, AvtoVAZ on the Table in France

RAMBOUILLET, France — Prime Minister Vladimir Putin offered France's EDF a role in a major energy project at talks on Friday while clinching Renault's support to save indebted Soviet-era car giant AvtoVAZ.

A flurry of business deals were expected to be sealed after talks at the Rambouillet chateau outside Paris between Putin and his French counterpart Francois Fillon, against a backdrop of strong European appetite for Russian energy resources.

"We have two main pillars in our bilateral cooperation — energy and high-tech," Putin's deputy chief of staff Yury Ushakov told reporters before the visit.

However, officials said before the visit that Iran's nuclear program and Moscow's plans to buy a French warship may also be discussed.

French direct investment in Russia amounts to $10 billion, including $1 billion made by Renault, which committed to buy a stake in AvtoVAZ, the ailing maker of Lada cars, in 2008.

A document distributed by Fillon's aides as Friday's talks began announced that a cooperation accord between Renault and AvtoVAZ would be signed. This could help the Kremlin avoid mass layoffs.

A deal was also quick to emerge on French power giant EDF joining the South Stream project to help Russian gas monopoly Gazprom and Italy's ENI build a pipeline under the Black Sea to supply gas to southern Europe.

"A full stop has been placed on the agreement between EDF and Gazprom about the French company taking part in ... what we call South Stream," Putin said.

"Agreement has been reached on working together on the territory of France and other countries. In essence, it is an exchange of assets," he added, without giving further details.

More than a dozen contracts were due to be signed on Friday, including an accord on financing the construction of a motorway between Moscow and St. Petersburg involving French construction group Vinci and a deal between Total and Russian state oil company Zarubezhneft.

France already ranks with Germany and Italy as one of Russia's top energy investors as a result of Gazprom's partnership with French company Total in the $15 billion Shtokman gas field, one of the world's largest.

Since that deal, Russia has regularly offered French firms a bigger role in new energy projects and praised growing trade volumes with France under President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Bilateral trade jumped by 35 percent to $22 billion in 2008 due to high energy prices, making France Russia's fifth-biggest European trading partner behind Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland and on a par with Britain.

Russia's plans to buy a Mistral-class warship, which can be used in amphibious assaults and to carry tanks, are also likely to be discussed.

"As far as the purchase of [the] Mistral warship is concerned, this topic is not on the agenda but everyone talks about it so it will be touched upon one way or another," said Ushakov.