Russia’s Great Leap Eastward

Via the Associated Press, an interesting look at Russia’s recent deals with China and Japan.  As the article notes:

“…The ruble is dropping, oil production is declining, foreign capital is fleeing, currency reserves are dwindling. Short-term, the Kremlin is struggling to deal with the worst economic crisis in a decade.

Long-term, though, the Kremlin appears to know exactly what it wants. And with the cut of a ribbon and the stroke of a pen last week, it staked its claim to what could be the start of a major shift in international energy politics.

Russia launched its first liquefied natural gas plant on the Pacific island of Sakhalin, the first facility of its kind for shipping Russian gas abroad. And in Beijing, Russian and Chinese officials signed a major long-term oil contract and pipeline deal.

The result?

In a stroke, Russia locked in two huge markets as energy customers, shipping natural gas for Japan and even more oil for China. East Asia’s two largest economies became even more dependent on Russian resources. Russia’s oil-driven economy got some long-term certainty. A Russian-led effort to create an OPEC-style gas cartel got a little boost.

And Europe was put on notice that if they don’t like how Russian energy is supplied to the continent, Moscow now has even more customers to turn to.

It’s a sign that, economic crunch notwithstanding, the Kremlin is playing for the long haul.

“It’s only the first step in the strategy of diversifying oil and gas exports for Russia, but it’s a very important one,” said Catherine Locatelli, Russian energy analyst with the French National Center for Scientific Research.

The deal signed Feb. 17 in Beijing links the world’s largest oil and gas producer — Russia — with China, soon to be the world’s largest oil and gas consumer.

The $25 billion agreement gets China and its energy-hungry economy 20 years of steady oil supplies and gets Russia a big new export pipeline for its vast untapped Siberian oil reserves. No price for the oil was announced.

Moscow, in exchange, gets loans for Rosneft and Transneft — two cash-strapped, state-run companies that are crucial to the Kremlin’s plans.

“It’s an example of the natural evolutionary relationship that will develop between Russia and China,” Roland Nash, head of research at Moscow-based Renaissance Capital. “They must have a longer term symbiotic relationship.”

A day later, President Dmitry Medvedev joined Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso at a ceremony launching Russia’s first LNG plant on the Pacific island of Sakhalin.

The plant expected to produce about 4.5 million tons this year. When it reaches full production of 10 million tons in 2010, the plant will product up to 5 percent of the world’s LNG supply. The overwhelming bulk of that is headed to Japan, already the world’s largest importer of LNG.

That means that despite seeking a formal World War II peace treaty and the return of several islands seized by Soviet troops during the war, the world’s second largest economy just tied itself even closer to a country with a reputation for turning off the taps at politically sensitive moments.

It also means that Russia is well on its way to being a major player in the international LNG market, a market that will be much easier to manipulate than piped gas.

That’s because LNG is much closer to a flexible commodity like oil and it’s more easily transported over longer distances. Piped gas, meanwhile, is usually sold in long-term contracts and shipments are limited by the scope of a pipeline network.

Moscow’s recent push for the creation of an OPEC-style gas cartel and Gazprom’s plans to push for 20 percent market share for LNG in the next 20 years are clear indications that Russia plans on being anything but a passive player in gas markets, LNG or otherwise.

“It is a milestone, a breakthrough for the Russian government’s policy,” said Valery Nesterov, an oil- and gas-analyst at Troika Dialog.

Both events last week were years in the making, and it was likely just coincidental that they took place a day apart. But the result was that over just two days, Russia moved its long-term energy strategy a great leap forward.

And a great leap eastward.

That will also raise worries in Europe, already spooked by Russia’s position as the continent’s dominant energy supplier and the semi-regular cutoffs of Russia energy supplies. More gas and more oil for China and Japan may ultimately mean less gas and less oil for Europe.

On Sakhalin, Medvedev said, “has the moral right, as well as the legal capability, and, chiefly, the practical ability to claim a role in all the diverse global energy processes.”

Last week, Moscow staked claim to an even bigger role for years to come.”

This entry was posted on Friday, February 27th, 2009 at 10:08 am and is filed under China, Russia.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

Comments are closed.

Wildcats & Black Sheep is a personal interest blog dedicated to the identification and evaluation of maverick investment opportunities arising in frontier - and, what some may consider to be, “rogue” or “black sheep” - markets around the world.

Focusing primarily on The New Seven Sisters - the largely state owned petroleum companies from the emerging world that have become key players in the oil & gas industry as identified by Carola Hoyos, Chief Energy Correspondent for The Financial Times - but spanning other nascent opportunities around the globe that may hold potential in the years ahead, Wildcats & Black Sheep is a place for the adventurous to contemplate & evaluate the emerging markets of tomorrow.