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Exclusive-Russia's top oil and gas chiefs to accompany Putin on China visit

By Vladimir Soldatkin and Olesya Astakhova

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The heads of Russian energy giants Gazprom and Rosneft, Alexei Miller and Igor Sechin, will join President Vladimir Putin's retinue during his visit to China next month, sources familiar with the plans told Reuters.

Putin is scheduled to meet China's President Xi Jinping for talks in Beijing and will attend the third Belt and Road Forum following an invitation from Xi during a high-profile visit to Moscow in March.

The sources said other senior Russian energy officials would also be in the delegation. Sechin will hold his own energy event following Putin's visit, a source said, without providing details.

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Gazprom, the world's biggest natural gas producer, and Rosneft, Russia's biggest oil producer, did not immediately reply to requests for comments.

Russia is bolstering its ties with Asia, especially economic powerhouse China, to offset reduced trade with Europe, its traditional buyer of oil and gas, over Moscow's actions in Ukraine.

Chinese-Russian trade has soared since what Moscow calls a "special military operation" in Ukraine began in February 2022. Russia has sold Asian countries, including China, larger volumes of the oil it can no longer sell to the West because of economic sanctions.

Putin last visited Beijing in February 2022, days before sending tens of thousands of Russian troops into Ukraine. He and Xi announced a 'no limits' partnership, though Moscow says this does not signify a military alliance.

Russia wants to secure a deal to sell more natural gas to China and plans to build the Power of Siberia-2 pipeline, which would traverse Mongolia and have an annual capacity of 50 billion cubic metres (bcm).

That compares to the 38 bcm the currently operational Power of Siberia is expected to reach by 2025.

The proposed pipeline would bring gas from the Yamal peninsula fields in western Siberia to China, the world's top energy consumer and a growing gas consumer.

China and Russia have yet to agree on the terms of gas deliveries via the route, including pricing. Negotiations are complex, in part because China is not expected to need more gas until after 2030, industry analysts said.

It is unclear whether any deals will be signed during Putin's visit to Beijing.

(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Olesya Astakhova; Editing by Gareth Jones, Guy Faulconbridge and Barbara Lewis)