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Russia and South Korea: energy and policy

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev met his South Korean counterpart Lee Myung-bak on November 2, 2011. The leaders discussed inter alia issues of gas cooperation. According to Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller, “supplies of Russian piped gas to South Korea might be expected in 2017”.

There are serious premises for Russian-South Korean political and energy cooperation that is currently at the very initial stage so far. South Korea is a highly-developed industrial country where the demand for natural gas will be inevitably growing, especially considering risks of the nuclear energy sector development after the Fukushima catastrophe in Japan. From the political point of view, Seoul is interested in advanced relations with a number of states, including Russia, as such partnerships could soften risks of huge growth in China’s influence.

Although Russian authorities do not admit it publicly, they are also looking for priority partners in the region that could create some counterbalance to the strengthening PRC and could provide Russia with a possibility to diversify deliveries of hydrocarbons in the eastern direction. Relations between Moscow and Tokyo are still complicated over the Kuril Islands. Meanwhile, there are no serious political obstacles to development of close ties with Seoul. Gas supplies may form the basis for the beginning of development of such relations. However, it seems that a more optimal variant would be organizing LNG or CNG supplies by tankers from Vladivostok (after corresponding infrastructure is built at the end of the Sakhalin-Khabarovsk-Vladivostok pipeline) rather than laying a trans-Korean gas pipeline through North Korea that would make deliveries dependent on the North Korean regime. It would be even better to have direct supplies from a new phase of the LNG facility that could be built within Sakhakin-2.

By Stanislav Mitrakhovich, NESF leading expert

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