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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Turkmens Court European Buyers

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan -- Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov told foreign energy chiefs gathered in Ashgabat to attend an energy conference on Thursday that he wanted to increase cooperation and diversify the country's gas exports.

Relations between Turkmenistan, which sells most of its gas to Russia, and Moscow deteriorated sharply this month following a gas explosion on a key pipeline that Turkmenistan blamed on Russia. The accident reinforced the West's resolve to convince Turkmenistan to work more closely with Europe.

"Turkmenistan needs to create a new system of ties with Europe," Berdymukhammedov told a packed hall of U.S., European and Russian officials. "In the current environment, diversification of energy flows and inclusion of new countries into the geography of export routes can help the global economy gain stability."

Worried that Turkmenistan may roll out of its traditional sphere of interest, Moscow has sent Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin to counter Western efforts on the sidelines of the two-day conference.

From the Western camp, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Krol, a senior United Nations official, the general secretary of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and heads of global energy companies were also present.

Bilateral meetings were held behind closed doors, and officials were tight-lipped on the outcome of talks. In his only remarks to reporters, Sechin played down any problems between Russia and Turkmenistan after the explosion.

"Such accidents will never lead to accidents in diplomatic relations with Turkmenistan," he said. "Everything will be okay."

Turkmenistan says the April 9 blast was caused by Russia's abrupt reduction of imports. It fully halted imports from Turkmenistan after the blast.

Gazprom has not commented on the Turkmen allegations. The accident happened at a time when Russia, hit hard by falling gas demand in Europe, was forced to cut gas output by a quarter.

Europe has courted Central Asia's biggest gas producer because it sees it as a potential supplier for the planned Nabucco gas pipeline, at the center of its plans to reduce its energy dependence on Russia.