* Russia seen turning to grain imports after drought
* Russian agministry denies discussing import plans
* U.S. weekly export wheat sales above expectations
(Updates with USDA export sales report)
By Svetlana Kovalyova
MILAN, Aug 19 (Reuters) - U.S. and European wheat futures jumped on Thursday spurred by expectations of hefty grain imports from drought-hit Russia and stronger than expected U.S. wheat export sales weekly figures in the U.S. government data.
European milling wheat futures rose sharply, with the benchmark November contract BL2X0 on Euronext up 10.00 euros or 4.87 percent at 215.50 euros by 1425 GMT, accelerating higher on the back of strong pre-opening gains in the U.S. futures.
Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) wheat for September delivery WUO was up 3.32 percent at $6.77-3/4 a bushel after the U.S. Department of Agriculture report showed export sales of U.S. wheat last week came in at 1,412,500 tonnes, above estimates for 950,000 to 1,250,000 tonnes [ID:nN19323321]
"The U.S. exports are tremendous for them, they are well above people's expectations," Gauthier Le Molgat of French grain analysts Agritel said. "They (the Americans) are realising how much export demand there is."
Gains in Paris were also fuelled by a tender by Egypt, which has turned away from Black Sea wheat to buy Canadian and French wheat amid an export freeze in Russia. [ID:nLDE67I14X]
"First we can see that Russia is in a very bad situation (requiring imports). Now we have the U.S. exports and people are expecting a rise in Chicago," Agritel's Le Molgat said.
Analysts estimate that Russia, usually a major grain exporter, will have to import 1.5-2.2 millions of tonnes of grain for the first time in more than 10 years after its worst drought in over a century, despite a denial of such plans from the Agriculture Ministry. [ID:nLDE67I11E]
A report in Vedomosti daily said Russia's need could be even greater and the Black Sea country could import at least 5 million tonnes of grain this year. [ID:nLDE67I0H9]
"We've seen a rapid expansion in recent years in Russia's livestock industry and the concern there was that potentially you could see Russia turning to the import market and that does seem to be the case now," Sudakshina Unnikrishnan, analyst at Barclays Capital said.
Imports were most likely to come from neighbouring countries including Ukraine and Kazakhstan, Unnikrishnan said.
Kazakhstan said on Thursday Russia will be among its main export markets with 2 million tonnes of grain exports earmarked for Russia, Iran and other countries out of total 8 million tonne grain exports expected in the current marketing year. [ID:nLDE67I0OS]
"We are likely to see a shift in terms of trade flows so a lot of the exports that were coming out of the former Soviet Union countries for wheat are now going to have to be met by countries like Australia, Argentina and the US," Unnikrishnan said.
Helping U.S corn futures was UDSA report which showed net export sales of U.S. corn last week were the largest in nearly 16 years [ID:nN19251538].
* Prices as of 1423 GMT Product Last Change Pct Move End 2009 Ytd Pct Paris wheat 215.50 10.25 +4.99 131.25 64.19 London wheat 151.00 4.50 +3.07 106.50 41.78 Paris maize 193.75 7.50 +4.03 135.00 43.52 Paris rapeseed 374.00 1.25 +0.34 287.50 30.09 CBOT wheat 677.75 21.75 +3.32 541.50 25.16 CBOT corn 421.00 2.50 +0.60 414.50 1.57 CBOT soybeans 1040.25 5.00 +0.48 1039.75 0.05 CBOT rice 10.89 0.14 +1.29 14.57 -25.26 Crude oil 74.60 -0.82 -1.09 79.36 -6.00 Euro/dlr 1.29 0.00 +0.16 1.43 -10.06 * CBOT contracts in cents per bushel except rice which is in dollars per hundredweight. Paris wheat in euros a tonne and London wheat in pounds per tonne
(Reporting by Svetlana Kovalyova in Milan, Gus Trompiz in Paris, Sarah McFarlane in London; editing by Keiron Henderson))