Friday, November 9, 2018

On Arctic and Pacific Shelf, Russia Caught Between Western Sanctions and Chinese Aspirations

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 9 – Western sanctions have already forced Russia to stop work on the development of existing oil and gas fields on the Arctic and Pacific shelf and to give up on plans to start others, and they have even led Moscow to think about inviting China to come into this area, something that would give Beijing another lever on Russia now and in the future.

            At the government hour yesterday in the Federation Council, Natural Resources Minister Dmitry Kobylkin said that his ministry “was losing hope for the rapid mastery of the Russian shelf under conditions of sanctions” even though developing it remains the priority Vladimir Putin has declared (

            As long as sanctions are in place, the minister said, there is no possibility that Russia will be able to reverse this situation on its own. It lacks the technology and the investment funds to go after often difficult to access oil and gas on the shelf floor – and this at a time when exporting petroleum is key to the development of the country’s economy. 

            In order to escape these restrictions, some Moscow officials are considering inviting China to take over many of the fields so that production can come on line, continue or expand. But many fear what this will mean, given China’s aspirations in Siberia and the Far East (

            But it is a measure of just how desperate Russia now is to develop these fields, that it appears ready to move ahead with a dramatically expanded Chinese role in an area the Kremlin has repeatedly said is Russia’s patrimony. Now the big question is whether the Chinese will agree – and on what conditions.

            “There are no guarantees,” reports, “that China will cross the US on sanctions question.” It may simply say no to Moscow, something that would be embarrassing as a confession of Russia’s weakness as a result of sanctions and its increasing dependence on China for help.

            And “if China does agree to such cooperation,” the portal says, it is quite likely that Beijing will insist on conditions extremely favorable to itself and thus extremely unfavorable to Russia.  But that may not be the worst thing about all this, the analysts at this portal suggest. Chinese ambitions with regard to Russian territory east of the Urals are well-known.

            This will give Beijing even greater leverage not just on the Russian shelf but on Russian lands. 

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