Russia's Gas Pact With China Not About Ukraine
Published: May 27, 2014 (Issue # 1812)
After a decade of delays, on May 21 Russia and China clinched a $400 billion 30-year deal on the delivery of 38 billion cubic meters of gas per year starting in 2018. In Shanghai, President Vladimir Putin called the deal an "epic event."
Although at the eve of the summit a cohort of skeptics argued that another impasse was likely, the deal was inevitable. While the crisis in Ukraine may have spurred the deal's signing, China's attractive terms and Europe's long-planned pivot away from restrictive Russian gas contracts, in addition to long-term geopolitical concerns, made the deal a foregone conclusion.
In the past, observers had largely focused on the pricing impasse, which indeed proved to be the main stumbling block. Gazprom was hoping for a price of $10 to $11 per mmBtu from China, which is higher than what China is believed to pay for gas from Turkmenistan.
Price has not been the only impediment, however. Russia's resistance to China's equity investments, disagreements over the preferred route, the meager presence of natural gas in the Chinese energy mix and enduring mistrust on both sides have all contributed to the deal's delay.
It is the resolution of these other domestic conditions and energy realities on both sides — rather than the price per se — that determined the deal's breakthrough.
China offered a loan of about $50 billion to finance both the pipeline and Russia's eastern gas fields as part of the Chinese "investment package" in eastern Siberia and the Far East. Like in other parts of the world, the Chinese "going abroad" strategy includes not only energy infrastructure, but also investment in roads, bridges and other projects in exchange for a long-term stable commitment on part of the receiving country.
In Moscow observers also emphatically point out Russia has gained much by the agreement, with the final price set at about $350 per thousand cubic meters, or roughly comparable to the price Gazprom charges its European customers.
Gazprom also forged ahead with the deal due to the fact that it has been on shaky grounds in Europe, its most lucrative export market. In the midst of greater liquidity on European Union gas hubs and of the European Commission's push for greater liberalization of the EU's gas markets, European buyers have challenged Gazprom's traditional pricing mechanisms, thereby forcing it to turn decidedly eastwards.
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