Sheikh Ahmad Fahad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the president of Opec, said at a press conference on Sunday that Russia was the world's second-leading oil exporter behind Saudi Arabia and a critical force in ensuring oil market stability.

 

He was also reported as saying that Russia could one day join the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries and that, whether it was a member or not, Moscow had always worked closely with the cartel on pricing and production policies.

 

Russia will take over as chairman of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialised countries next year means so this is a particularly opportune moment to hold discussions with Moscow on the oil market, he said.

 

Ahmad, who is also energy minister of Kuwait, and other members of the high-level Opec delegation, were scheduled to meet Viktor Khristenko, the Russian energy and industry minister, and Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, on Monday.

 

Falling demand

 

Ahmad and Lavrov were expected to talk to journalists after the talks.

 

Speaking in Beijing on Thursday, Sheikh Ahmad said Opec was likely to cut production in the second quarter of next year if demand and prices fall.

 

His remarks reflected Opec's concern that oil demand will fall after winter in the Northern Hemisphere, pushing prices down.