MOSCOW - Partners in Russia's Shtokman natural gas project are likely to postpone a final investment decision after running into financing problems during the economic crisis, project member Total said on Tuesday.

Arnaud Breuillac, Total's vice-president for exploration and production in Central Europe and Continental Asia, said a final decision would be taken by the end of 2010, nine months later than a previous deadline for the Gazprom-led project.

In the current conditions, it is absolutely normal that the project is taking more time than was initially planned, Breuillac told a conference.

Projects on a scale such as Shtokman are coming up against difficulties in attracting finance, he said.

Shtokman, an offshore project in the Arctic that is expected to require $15 billion of investment in its first phase alone, needs strong international gas demand to be commercially viable.

Falling gas demand, a result of the economic crisis, has already prompted Gazprom to postpone another large project, Bovanenkovo, on the Arctic peninsula of Yamal. The company has delayed its launch by one year to the third quarter of 2012.

The Shtokman project in the Barents Sea is led by Gazprom, Russia's gas export monopoly, while France's Total and Norwegian energy firm StatoilHydro each hold a minority stake.

While Gazprom plans to scale back investments due to the economic slowdown, the company has said priority projects -- including Shtokman -- would not be affected.

Analysts, however, have viewed such statements with scepticism, saying any decline in world gas demand was unlikely to boost the attractiveness of the project, which will ship gas by pipeline and by tankers in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG). (Writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; editing by James Jukwey)