Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said it was possible to secure a deal with Norway over a disputed Barents Sea border region, whose delineation could unlock access to oil and gas resources.
Medvedev arrived in Oslo on Monday for a two-day visit with the Barents Sea border debate high on the agenda, but both sides have played down the prospects of a final accord.
The decades-old dispute has meant both sides have kept on ice oil and gas exploration in a maritime region half the size of Germany, sandwiched between proven oil and gas resources in Norwegian and Russian waters.
"It is necessary to find a solution that makes it possible to define both zones," Medvedev told Norwegian daily Aftenposten in a weekend interview. "I regard that as absolutely possible."
Kremlin foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko told reporters that only some 7,000 sq km out of a total of 560,000 sq km in the "southern part" of the zone remained to be agreed upon. The two sides made a deal over a tiny fjord inlet at the southern tip of the region in 2007.
The disputed zone is between the Shtokman gas discovery on the Russian side -a huge reservoir which holds enough gas to meet global demand for a year- and two promising oil and gas fields on the Norwegian side.
Norway's energy champion Statoil, as well as fellow minority partner Total of France, are helping develop the Gazprom-run Shtokman project due to supply gas to Europe and liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the United States.
"The question here is to find the right date to begin the project stage for the construction," Medvedev told Aftenposten about the Shtokman project. "If this will be done in 2010 or 2011, is not that important in principle."
The discovery of shale gas in the United States has lowered energy prices and limited need for LNG imports, putting a question mark over the need to rapidly start the technically challenging and costly Shtokman project.
Medvedev, who will also visit Denmark, is due to discuss Arctic fishing issues and economic cooperation in Europe's northernmost region, where Russia and Norway share a 180-km land border.