Russia and China launch joint natural gas pipeline

Landmark opening marks Putin’s attempt to turn away from West and towards Asia

Russia has started to supply natural gas to China via the Power of Siberia pipeline after the country’s leaders oversaw the opening of the landmark project.

Russian gas group Gazprom will eventually supply China with 38 billion cubic metres of natural gas a year in a deal worth $55bn (£42.5bn, €49.8bn). The pipeline will pump gas from the Chayandinskoye and Kovytka fields in eastern Siberia to the Chinese border.

The deal, which likely to make Beijing Russia’s second biggest energy customer after Germany in the next few years, comes at a time of deep political significance.

Russia’s relationship with the US and EU has been worsening since the West imposed sanctions on Moscow after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been trying to turn the Russian economy away from dependence on the West towards the emerging economies of Asia.

Meanwhile, China has been locked in a tit-for-tat trade war with the US for 16 months.

Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping used the launch to talk up closer ties between the countries.

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“This is a genuinely historical event not only for the global energy market but above all for us, for Russia and China,” said Putin. “This step takes Russo-Chinese strategic co-operation in energy to a qualitative new level and brings us closer to [fulfilling] the task, set together with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, of taking bilateral trade to $200bn by 2024.”

Xi called the pipeline “a landmark project of bilateral energy cooperation” and an “example of deep integration and mutually beneficial cooperation.”

Europe is likely to remain by far the largest customer for Russian gas, however. The continent currently buys about 200 billion cubic metres annually.

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