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Russia Wednesday said it was close to signing a deal to sell natural gas to China, a long-sought agreement that President Vladimir Putin could hold up to show Western sanctions over Crimea cannot isolate his country.The deal is the holy grail for Russia after at least 10 years of talks, and Moscow hopes it can be signed when Putin visits China next month, enabling it to go into force by the end of this year.Gazprom said separately it made progress at the talks on the price China would pay for the Russian gas and that it expected the contract to come into force by the end of 2014 .The gas deal with China would help Gazprom reduce its dependency on exports to Europe, which gets around a third of its gas needs from Russia.
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