Gazprom, the world\'s biggest gas firm, reported a 24.0-percent net profit leap for 2010 on Thursday to 968.6 billion rubles (35.2 billion dollars). It said that the increase from the 2009 figure came on a rise of 20 percent in total sales to 3.597 trillion rubles (130.7 billion dollars), which included a 14-percent increase in net sales of gas in the period to 2.186 trillion rubles (79.4 billion dollars). \"This increase was due to the growth of volumes of gas sold to Former Soviet Union countries,\" it said. Gazprom said it was helped in Russia by an increase in the average domestic price for gas set by the Federal Tariffs Service and in other former Soviet countries by an increase of average realised prices in Russian ruble terms. Gazprom, founded in 1989, grew out of the USSR\'s Gas Industry Ministry and was part-privatised from 1993 in the much-criticised sale of state assets in post-Soviet Russia. The government has retained a controlling stake of just over 50 percent, according to the company\'s website and the firm is now a cornerstone of the modern Russian state. Gazprom is playing a key role in the hugely ambitious South Stream project to build a pipeline to pump gas to Europe avoiding Ukraine, a scheme it regards as crucial for the security of Russia\'s future energy exports. It is also trying to diversify gas exports beyond Europe and the former Soviet Union and is expecting to sign a massive gas sales contract with the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) in the middle of this year. Gazprom will also be hoping for a strong 2011 performance owing to high oil prices - which affect the price of gas - liberalisation of the Russian gas market and a global economic recovery.