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Putin Touts China Ties, Gas Deals Signed

  • RFE/RL

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping shake hands during a signing ceremony in Beijing for agreements between the two countries on energy supplies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping shake hands during a signing ceremony in Beijing for agreements between the two countries on energy supplies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has touted relations with China during a visit to Beijing that comes as his ties with the West are badly strained over the Ukraine crisis.

Putin also oversaw the signing of agreements on a new gas pipeline to energy-hungry China, which Russia is courting as an alternative to Europe for its exports, but the documents are short of a definitive deal and there are questions about how much Beijing is willing to pay.

The trip gave Putin a platform to play up ties with Beijing a day before a November 10-11 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit that was bringing other world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, to the Chinese capital.

Meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping for the tenth time in less than two years, Putin said cooperation between Russia and China is "extremely important for keeping the peace within the framework of international law" and making the world more stable.

He spoke on November 9 amid renewed accusations of direct Russian involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said its monitors had seen "convoys of heavy weapons and tanks" on territory held by pro-Russian separatists.

Xi told Putin "we have carefully taken care of the tree of Russian-Chinese relations. Now...it's time to gather fruit."

"No matter the changes on the global arena, we should stick to the chosen path to expand and strengthen our comprehensive mutually fruitful cooperation," Xi said.

Putin and Xi looked on as representatives signed 17 agreements including a memorandum and a "framework agreement" between Russian gas giant Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) on supplies of gas via what the Kremlin calls the "western route."

Russia wants to export at least 30 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas from deposits in western Siberia to China annually, for 30 years, via a pipeline that would cross the Altai region.

This is on top of an agreement signed in May for state-controlled Gazprom to supply China with 38 bcm a year from deposits in eastern Siberia via a pipeline that would cross into China much further east.

"The western route is becoming the priority for our gas cooperation," said Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller, adding that details including the timeframe for building the pipeline and rate of increasing supplies have already been determined.

Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak told reporters that "our leaders have just agreed to sign a contract in the first half of next year," while Miller said that the sides had "agreed that we will strive to sign the document soon" but suggested that they had set the end of 2015 as a deadline for a firm deal.

The May agreement was the product of years of tough negotiations, mostly over prices, and questions remain about the details of that deal.

Gazprom sold 161 bcm of gas to Europe in 2013, and soaring tensions with Russia over the conflict in Ukraine have prompted Europe to step up efforts to seek alternative suppliers.

That, in addition to Western sanctions imposed over Russia's actions in Ukraine, have increased Moscow's eagerness to sell as much gas as it can to China.

But China has a choice of suppliers, including Central Asian nations such as Turkmenistan, potentially giving Beijing the upper hand in negotiations with Russia.

With reporting by Reuters, TASS, Interfax, AFP, and dpa
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