MOSCOW: Russia and China on Monday launched a giant gas pipeline linking the countries for the first time, one of three 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 noted that the project served as a model of cooperation. “China-Russia relations are entering a new era,” Xi said. “Everyone worked hard.”
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.
Workers burst into applause and celebratory music played as the Chief Executive Officer of Russian gas giant Gazprom, Alexei Miller, speaking from the Amur region, ordered a valve opened for the gas to flow 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 (1.3 trillion cubic feet) of gas annually when fully operational in 2025.
Russia and China signed the 30-year, $400-billion construction deal in 2014 — Gazprom’s biggest ever contract.
The pipeline is part of Russia efforts to develop ties with Asia—in particular top energy importer China—amid longstanding tensions with the west.
Gazprom stressed that the pipeline ran through “swampy, mountainous, seismically active, permafrost and rocky areas with extreme environmental conditions”.
Temperatures along the route plunge to below minus 60 degrees Celsius (C) in Yakutia and below minus 40 C in the Russian Far East’s Amur Region.
Work has also been completed on the first road bridge between Russia and China, further linking the two neighbors.
The bridge, which is to open next year, will connect the city of Blagoveshchensk and the northern Chinese city of Heihe.
Moscow, however, 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 and Nord Stream 2.