Russia, China start mega gas pipeline as Ukraine crisis deepens

China and Russia today inaugurated construction of a pipeline that will pump Russia’s natural gas all the way from from Siberia to Shanghai, a distance of nearly 3,500km as the crow flies.

Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli and Russian President Vladimir Putin jointly witnessed the welding of the first roll of pipes on the Russian part of the "China-Russia East Route natural gas pipeline" in Yakutsk, Chinese state-run news agency, Xinhua, reported.

The pipeline will run from the Kovyktin and Chayandin gas fields in east Siberia down to the port city of Vladivostok. Then it will cross into China to Beijing, and, eventually, extend south to Shanghai. 

According to the contract, signed between the two countries in May this year, Russia will export 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually to China through the east route pipeline for a 30-year period starting from 2018.

The start of construction comes as relations between Russia and Europe hit new lows over the crisis in Ukraine, where Russia is accused of supporting rebels in the east of the country with troops and military hardware. On Sunday the European Union (EU) threatened a new round of sanctions against Russia unless it backed down. Russia has denied any involvement in the conflict.

Meanwhile, the fate of Russia’s planned South Stream pipeline, which would bypass Ukraine in supplying natural gas to Europe, remains in doubt. In June, under pressure from the US and the EU, Bulgaria stopped construction of the section running over its territory.

The China-Russia East Route pipeline represents a deepening of trade ties between the two countries at a time when Russia’s isolation from the West looks set to continue.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping during the May signing of the historic agreement for Russia to supply China with gas

Xinhua reports that, in addition to the pipeline, a railway bridge between the Chinese town of Tongjiang and the Russian city of Nizhneleninskoye in Siberia will link the Far East region with the Silk Road Economic Belt as proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this year.

"The two countries have defied the slowdown of world economy to register steady growth in bilateral trade," Xinhua stated, "with two-way trade volume in the first five months of the year going up 4.3 percent year on year to 36.8 billion U.S. dollars."

Russia’s Gazprom will build the Russia section of the new pipeline, while China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) will build the Chinese section.

Another pipeline is planned, as well. Xinhua reports that the two countries are in negotiations to build a West Route pipeline, but did not specify the route. Under a CNPC-Gazprom agreement, Russia will export a total of 70 billion cubic meters of natural gas to China every year through the two pipelines.

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin agreed to "establish a comprehensive energy cooperation partnership" during their meeting in May, Gazprom Chairman of the Board of Directors Alexey Miller said Saturday, according to Xinhua.

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