Putin, Xi launch Power of Siberia pipeline

Photo: EPA A general view shows Xi Jinping speaking with Vladimir Putin via a video link, from the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, 2 December.

Russia and China on Monday launched a giant gas pipeline linking the countries for the first time, news wires reported. Presiding by video link-up over an elaborate televised ceremony, Russian president 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 pointed out that 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".

The ceremony featured hard-hatted gas workers and videos showing the pipeline's difficult path from remote areas of eastern Siberia to Blagoveshchensk on the Chinese border. The CEO of Russian gas giant Gazprom Alexei Miller ordered a valve opened for the gas to pass across the border. The 3,000-kilometre pipeline, which Putin has called "the world's biggest construction project", will supply China with 38 billion cubic metres of gas annually when it is fully operational in 2025.Russia and China signed a 30-year, $400bn deal for its development in 2014, in the biggest ever contract for Gazprom.

The pipeline ran through "swampy, mountainous, seismically active, permafrost and rocky areas with extreme environmental conditions", Gazprom stressed. Temperatures along the route plunge to below minus 60 degrees Celsius in Yakutia and below minus 40 C in the Russian Far East's Amur Region.

The pipeline is part of Russia's efforts to develop ties with Asia, in particular top energy importer China, amid longstanding tensions with the West. But Moscow remains a key gas provider to Europe and is also planning to soon launch two more pipelines that will ramp up supplies to the continent while bypassing Ukraine.

TurkStream, which Putin and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan hope to launch in January, is to transport Russian gas to Turkey. Running under the Black Sea, the pipeline consists of two lines, the first intended for Turkish consumers, while the second will send gas to southern and southeastern Europe.

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, particularly Ukraine.

Analysts said the three 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.

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