Russia's energy minister says Austria will join the Russian-backed South Stream natural gas pipeline project this month.
Russian news agencies are quoting Sergei Shmatko as saying today that the agreement with Austria would be the final deal before construction begins later this year.
There has been no independent confirmation of Shmatko's claim. Austria backs the rival Nabucco pipeline project, which is supported by the EU and the United States and would bypass Russia in supplying gas from the Caspian Sea region.
The South Stream is a joint venture of Russia's Gazprom and Italy's ENI.
The pipeline is meant to exit Russia under the Black Sea and enter the European Union via Bulgaria to carry some 63 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year when it is scheduled to come online in 2015. Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy and Croatia are already signed onto the deal.