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Russia leases its rainy day LNG vessel to Austria's OMV

Vladimir Soldatkin, Kirsti Knolle and Maria Grabar

MOSCOW/VIENNA, Aug 29 (Reuters) - A Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG) unit hailed by President Vladimir Putin as a guarantor of energy security to Russia's Kaliningrad enclave has been leased by OMV, in the absence of immediate threats to its overland gas supplies.

The Marshal Vasilevskiy floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU) - a terminal with storage facilities which can also act as an LNG vessel - had been moored near the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad by Kremlin-controlled Gazprom.

The unit was set up to offset potential disruptions to gas pipeline flows via Belarus to Kaliningrad, which is sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania and cut off from the rest of Russia. However, there is no immediate danger to those flows.

Rainer Seele, the head of the Austrian company, confirmed to Reuters on Thursday that OMV has hired the vessel, after three Gazprom sources said an agreement had been struck.

According to Refinitiv Eikon data, the vessel has been moored at the port of Rotterdam. "(OMV) have loaded an LNG cargo and are waiting for LNG prices to go up to re-sell it," a Gazprom source said. Gazprom declined to comment.

Russia's energy ministry had no immediate comment on the deal.

OMV chief executive Seele told Reuters on the sidelines of an economic event in Austria's Alpbach that the company planned to use the vessel as an offshore storage facility.

He declined to say whether the ship was holding Gazprom's LNG, nor for how long OMV had leased the vessel.

Three Gazprom sources said OMV has hired the vessel until November. The vessel was chartered empty after its last LNG cargo was offloaded in Kaliningrad, one of the three sources said.

The Kremlin said in January, when Putin oversaw the vessel's launch in Kaliningrad, that the decision to set up an FSRU was part of a plan to reduce gas transit risks to the region, home to Russia's Baltic Fleet base.

This was a response to deteriorating relations with the neighbouring European Union following a string of incidents, including Russia's conflict with Ukraine and allegations that it meddled in U.S. elections.

Marshal Vasilevskiy is able to convert liquefied natural gas into gas which can be pumped via pipelines to consumers.

Gazprom has also set up a gas terminal at Kaliningrad. The tanker and the terminal can receive 3.7 billion cubic metres of sea-borne gas a year, easily exceeding the region's current consumption needs of 2.6 bcm.

However, a Gazprom source said the tanker had been idle due to a lack of demand in Kaliningrad.

Gazprom has a long relationship with the Austrian company. It has pledged to supply OMV with the equivalent of 1.2 billion cubic metres of natural gas in the form of LNG in 2020.

OMV is also Gazprom's partner in the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. (Writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Katya Golubkova, Andrew Osborn and Jan Harvey)