Learning Mandarin in the tundra - Russia invites China into oil business
By Vladimir Soldatkin
VANKOR/SUZUN OIL FIELDS, Russia (Reuters) - Russia's freezing north has never been the most welcoming place for foreign travelers, and its onshore oil riches have always been state secrets. But when the order comes from the Kremlin to open up, people obey.
Last September, President Vladimir Putin, who has been seeking new markets in Asia for Russian energy exports to replace traditional customers in Europe, announced that he would welcome Chinese investment in Vankor, a vast new oil field in remote eastern Siberia owned by state firm Rosneft.
Since then, delegations from both China and India have been flown out to visit the field in the remote tundra.
Some of the workers, who spend four weeks at a time at the isolated station - where temperatures can fall as low as minus 60 Celcius (minus 76 Fahrenheit) - have duly taken up Mandarin.
"No problem. We will work with the Chinese workers if need be," said Alexei Zyryanov, deputy head of an oil and gas production unit.
All of Vankor's output of 440,000 barrels per day of crude is already shipped east, via the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline, which includes a spur feeding China's northeast.
But a proposed Chinese investment in a stake in the project would go far further than Moscow has ever gone before to luring Beijing into its hydrocarbon industry.
Rarely has Moscow considered offering an ownership stake in such a big strategic onshore deposit to outsiders, despite decades of interest from Western majors. The offer is the more remarkable for being made to China, a rival for decades with which Russia nearly went to war in the 1960s over a border dispute. Continued...