* Russia writes off almost $10 billion North Korea's debt
* Russia eyes gas pipeline, railway via North Korea to South
MOSCOW, April 19 Russia's parliament has agreed
to write off almost $10 billion of North Korea's Soviet-era
debt, in a deal expected to facilitate the building of a gas
pipeline to South Korea across the reclusive state.
Russia has written off debts to a number of impoverished
Soviet-era allies, including Cuba. North Korea's struggling
communist economy is just 2 percent of the size of neighbouring
The State Duma lower house on Friday ratified a 2012
agreement to write off the bulk of North Korea's debt. It said
the total debt stood at $10.96 billion as of Sept. 17, 2012.
The rest of the debt, $1.09 billion, would be redeemed
during the next 20 years, to be paid in equal instalments every
six months. The outstanding debt owed by North Korea will be
managed by Russia's state development bank, Vnesheconombank.
Russia's Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak told
Russian media that the money could be used to fund mutual
projects in North Korea, including a proposed gas pipeline and a
railway to South Korea.
The two Koreas remain technically at war and are separated
by one of the world's most militarised frontiers. Parts of the
international community have been seeking to re-engage with
North Korea amid hopes that the reclusive state's government
would seek ways to end years of isolation and poverty.
Russia's state-owned top natural producer Gazprom,
has long planned to build a gas pipeline via North Korea to
South Korea with a view to shipping 10 billion cubic metres of
Moscow has been trying to diversify its energy sales to Asia
away from Europe, which, in its turn, wants to cut its
dependence on oil and gas from the erstwhile Cold War foe.
Moscow aims to reach a deal to supply gas to China, after a
decade of talks, this May.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Peter Graff)