Monumental gas pipeline brings superpowers closer


Russia and China yesterday launched a giant gas pipeline linking the countries for the first time, one of several major projects aimed at cementing Moscow's role as the world's top gas exporter.

Presiding by video link-up over an elaborate televised ceremony, Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping hailed the "Power of Siberia" pipeline as a symbol of cooperation.

"Today is remarkable, a truly historic event not only for the global energy market but first of all for us and for you, for Russia and China," Putin said.

Xi said the project served as a model of cooperation and that "the development of Sino-Russian ties is and will be a foreign policy priority for both our nations".

Workers burst into applause and celebratory music played as the CEO of Russian gas giant Gazprom, Alexei Miller, ordered a valve opened for the gas to pass across the border.

The 3,000-kilometer pipeline - which Putin has called "the world's biggest construction project" - will supply China with 38 billion cubic meters of gas annually when it is fully operational in 2025.

Russia and China signed a 30-year, US$400 billion (HK$3.13 trillion) deal for its development in 2014, in the biggest ever contract for Gazprom.

The pipeline, starting from remote areas of eastern Siberia, ran through "swampy, mountainous, seismically active, permafrost and rocky areas with extreme environmental conditions".

It is part of Russia's efforts to develop ties with Asia amid longstanding tensions with the West. But Moscow remains a key gas provider to Europe and plans to launch more pipelines to ramp up supplies to the continent while bypassing Ukraine.

Nord Stream-2, which would double Russian gas volumes to Germany, is expected to go online in mid-2020, though it has faced opposition from the United States and countries in central and eastern Europe.

They fear it will increase Europe's reliance on Russian energy supplies which Moscow could then use to exert political pressure.

Analysts said the pipeline projects have long-term economic and political benefits for Russia, which has inserted itself between European markets to the west and the rapidly growing Chinese market to the east.

"Russia is not only creating new income streams but hedging its bets and bolstering its position strategically," said energy analyst Andrew Hill.

But some analysts have said the project makes little economic sense, given its enormous costs, and should not have been built.

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