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Xi's Siberia pipeline delay signals limits to his embrace of Putin

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Riga | March 24, 2023 10:05:57 PM IST
Russian President Vladimir Putin's plan to push for the gas giant Gazprom Siberia pipeline was deflated after Chinese President Xi Jinping did not show interest in the milestone project, reported The Washington Post.

The Chinese leader's state visit showed Moscow and Beijing united against the West, but failure to agree on the Siberia Power 2 pipeline suggested that economic ties have limits.

Xi's support for Putin, despite his invasion of Ukraine, is a geopolitical milestone - the Chinese leader called it a change "not seen in 100 years" -- as Beijing prepares for an era of growing confrontation with the United States and the press positioned for a multipolar world to end Washington's global dominance.

But Xi's failure to give Russia the added token boost of a huge gas pipeline deal showed he would not sacrifice China's economic self-interest, and it highlighted Putin's weakness and growing dependence on his "dear friend," reported The Washington Post.

Russian gas giant Gazprom has been pushing the Siberia pipeline plan for years, and all eyes were on the meetings with Xi this week for signs of agreement.

Putin is desperately scouting for hungry new gas markets after Russia lost the bulk of its most important export market, Europe, following his invasion of Ukraine. That loss included Putin's ill-considered move to cut gas supplies to Germany through a major pipeline last year, reported The Washington Post.

Even if there was an agreement, the pipeline would take many years to build and would not help Russia's near-term economic woes with its shrinking revenues due to sanctions.

Xi's trip offered Putin important moral support, and Chinese trade has bolstered Russia's economy, but the lack of a deal on Power of Siberia 2 showed the limits of what Xi is willing to do, said Janis Kluge, an expert on Russia's economy with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

"Russia needs a lot from China right now, and it's in a very weak position," Kluge said.

"Basically, it would be a gesture of trust or loyalty from the Chinese side because, of course, these gas deals are always very long-term commitments," he said, adding that it was questionable if the Power of Siberia 2 pipeline would ever be built, which in turn raises doubts about whether Russia's western Siberian gas would ever be exported, reported The Washington Post.

Moreover, the leaders' joint statement referred vaguely to "strengthening the comprehensive partnership in the energy sector" but, tellingly, only agreed to "make efforts to advance work on studying and agreeing" on the landmark project.

Putin said on Tuesday that "practically all the parameters" of the Power of Siberia 2 deal had been agreed upon, but his comments concealed a defeat of Russian efforts to get final agreement from China, reported The Washington Times.

However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied reports that the failure to get a deal was a defeat for Putin, calling these "low-quality fake stories."

But there are plenty of uncertainties, including the expected level of Chinese gas demand in the 2030s, the price of gas at that time, China's ready access to many other global suppliers and its capacity to increase its own domestic gas production.

The International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook last year reported that China's LNG contracts, existing pipelines and new domestic gas projects would exceed its requirements up to 2035, as the growth in demand for gas slows. (ANI)

 
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