Russian and Chinese leaders have celebrated the symbolic start to the construction of what they say will be the world's largest pipeline. The bilateral gas supply network is to start operating by 2019.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli on Monday launched the construction of the first part of a huge gas pipeline dubbed "The Power of Siberia."
Engineers said the pipeline would have a length of some 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) and would link gas fields in eastern Siberia to China.
State leaders attending the groundbreaking ceremony in Russia's Republic of Yakutia called the pipeline "the world's largest construction project," adding that it required both nations to invest a total of $70 billion (53.3 billion euros).
Looking for new energy alliances
"The new gas line will significantly strengthen the economic cooperation with countries in the Asia Pacific region and above all our key partner China, "Putin was quoted as saying on state broadcaster RT's website.
Following a decade of negotiations, Beijing and Moscow agreed in May of this year to a 30-year contract on gas deliveries valued at $400 billion.
Russia is the world's largest gas exporter and has lately been seeking ways to shift its attention away from Europe towards clients in Asia. The reasons for this strategic reorientation are manifold.
Asian nations currently offer superior growth prospects as Europe's economy is largely stagnating. But the realignment is also a response to the protracted standoff between the West and the Kremlin over the Ukraine conflict and sanctions the EU and the US have imposed on Russia. The EU has desperately been looking for ways to reduce its dependency on Russian gas deliveries.
hg/sgb (AFP, ITAR-TASS, RT)