The first major engagement of President Vladimir Putin after returning to the Kremlin following Monday’s 15-hour Delhi visit has been the commissioning of the final phase of the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline [ESPO] — a pipeline with mammoth full capacity to pump up to 80 million tonnes of oil annually. The 4200-kilometre long ESPO connects the oil fields in Western Siberia to the seaboard of Russia’s Far East near the port city of Nakhodka.
Built at a cost of $25 billion, it is billed as Russia’s “largest infrastructure project since the Soviet Union.” (Reuters) No doubt, it is a big ticket item in global politics, and for energy specialists worldwide in particular. Reuters aptly calls the pipeline Russia’s “Asia oil link”. Moscow’s thrust is toward tapping the Asia-Pacific market.
Putin singled out China, the United States, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia (interestingly, he omitted India) as Russia’s potential markets. But China and Japan are indeed Russia’s prime consumers.
Obviously, Russia will use the “oil card” to expand its influence and attract investments for the development of Siberia and the Russian Far-East — especially, Japanese investment, which would bring in high technology too. Russia is keen to diversify the foreign investment.
Equally, Russia is now able to finesse an “Asian card”, which balances the heavy dependence on the European energy market. Moscow gets more maneuvering space vis-a-vis the European countries. Europe will worry that Russia may overcommit itself in the dynamic Asian market and reduce the oil exports to Europe, but that is unlikely, since energy ties help Russia to leverage European (and trans-Atlantic) policies.
Putin is delivering on his pledge to make Russia a bridge between the West and the East with a robustly independent foreign policy.
– December 26, 2012