Paolo Scaroni, the chief executive of Italian oil and gas player Eni, says his company wants to build a partnership with the Russian gas giant Gazprom, according to a Russian newspaper.

Mr Scaroni told Vedomosti that we are suggesting to Gazprom that we conclude a strategic cooperation agreement in which the presence of Eni in exploration and production in Russia would be assured.

In return it is likely that Gazprom would gain greater access to the Italian market via Eni’s downstream and pipeline operations. This is in accordance with Gazprom’s stated aim of becoming more involved in the European gas distribution business.

The Eni boss also acknowledged that it may work with Gazprom on the latter’s plans to build a $2.5 billion gas liquefaction plant near St Petersburg.

Mr Scaroni’s comments came just days after it was announced that Gazprom had agreed a co-operation deal with the state-owned Algerian energy firm Sonatrach. This caused alarm bells to ring in Italy, which is one of the chief customers of north African gas, and like several EU countries, Italy is already concerned about the rising role of Gazprom in supplying it with gas.