Russia, China settle oil debts, fail to coordinate gas prices
Russian officials accompanying Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to China say they have settled all their oil problems but failed to agree on gas prices. Experts say China will not concede, while Russia needs a gas agreement with China for its relations with Europe.
Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin said Tuesday that all oil-contract related issues had been resolved.
Sechin said China will repay its debts “in the next few days in accordance with documents to be signed by the companies involved.” He said the sides will either sign an additional agreement or a supplement to the existing contract.
Russia launched oil deliveries through the Skovorodino-Daqing branch from the ESPO pipeline on January 1, 2011, with 15 million tons to be delivered annually for 20 years. Rosneft will provide 9 million and Transneft 6 million tons of oil. In return, Chinese banks lent $15 billion to Rosneft and $10 billion to Transneft.
Problems arose in March when the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) decided that Russia had overpriced its oil by 2%-3% and so cut its payments. China insists that the price must be reviewed to link it to the start of the ESPO offshoot, not to the Kozmino port terminal. Its debts reached $250 million, and Rosneft and Transneft started consultations on suing it in the London Court of International Arbitration.
In late May, China repaid the bulk of the debt, but continued paying $3 less per barrel. By mid-September, its debt to Russia had reached $85 million.
No agreement has been reached on gas deliveries. Sechin said Russia will ship at least 30 billion cubic meters of gas to China by the western route annually and the sides should specify a roadmap for developing further cooperation in this area within two weeks. He said Chinese gas reserves will satisfy only half of the 400 billion cubic meters of its gas demand by 2020.
Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said in late July they are ready to build a gas pipeline to China. He later said they favor the western Altai pipeline, which will cost $14 billion, and are not discussing an eastern route.
RusEnergy partner Mikhail Krutikhin said it was clear that no gas agreement would be reached in Beijing. “China only needs Russian gas for its northern provinces, and then only if the price is right,” he said, adding “Russia is trying to scare Europe with threats of redirecting its gas to China. But China is not ready to pay $220-$230 per 1,000 cubic meters.” Krutikhin also said Altai is economically unviable because China does not need Russian gas in Manchuria.
Wang Lijiu, a Russia expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, yesterday wrote in Renmin Ribao that the pipeline is a key element of bilateral energy cooperation. “A more favorable decision may be reached on this project during Putin’s visit,” he said.
Russian authorities address nationalist extremism
The nationalist demonstration of December 11, 2010, on Moscow’s Manezh Square has forced the state to focus on the issue of interethnic relations. Government officials discussed this problem on October 11 at a roundtable conference titled Conflicts among the Youth: Is There an Ethnic Subtext?
Interested parties in Chechnya and Dagestan, young people with roots in the Caucasus and two or three activists from Moscow discussed the issue via video link.
Most were inclined to agree with the views of Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin. The main conclusion was that all the past year’s high-profile conflicts were interpersonal in nature, and had no racial, religious or ethnic subtext. They emerged from the brutality of the individuals involved, and the irresponsible media blew it out of proportion.
However, the surprising aspect of this debate was the frankness with which nationalists were allowed to address the issues that concerned them, in what was after all an official forum. For example, Alexei Mikhailov of the Russian Way movement specifically formulated factors of concern to Russians:
“Today, it is the aggressive behavior of young people from the Caucasus. In addition to crime and corruption, which are not without reason often associated with the Caucasus. Another factor would be those republics in the North Caucasus with their ostentatious luxury and exorbitant spending. People are asking – where does the money come from? And finally, there is the authorities' stance, which is this: it's all the fault of provocateurs, everything is fine, there’s nothing to lose any sleep over. And anyone who tries to raise this issue is disproportionally punished. Understanding that this is how it is, Russians no longer feel at home here, in their own country. The view that fascist provocateurs are fueling interethnic strife is gradually fading. The 'Russian Issue' is slowly starting to enter the equation.”
“Russia is a multi-ethnic state, that’s an indisputable fact,” he added. “But it is also a Russian nation, created as a Russian state, primarily by Russians, who served to unify these peoples. This is the architecture of our country. Accordingly, this should also be set out somewhere, perhaps in the Russian Constitution – the state-forming role of the Russian people and the equality of all the different ethnic groups living here. This should be voiced at state level.”
Extreme services market keeps on growing
Providers of extreme services are ready to offer their bored customers an ever wider variety of experiences such as surviving in the woods for two days blindfolded or walking across hot coals to boost team spirit.
This kind of corporate training costs 5,000 rubles ($160) per person on average. Organizers offer bored middle-class managers who have seen-it-all a “serious psychological experience, a chance to discover yourself, and fight your fears.”
One of the most popular experiences aimed at defeating the fear of death is to be buried alive, breathing through a rubber tube. A surprising number of people like the idea of surviving their own funeral.
“When they dug me out, I felt so happy and loved the whole world. I was also proud for overcoming my fear. By the way, all those movies that show people digging themselves out of their own graves are pure nonsense – you can’t even move down there,” one customer said.
Extreme training is a way to achieve a natural desire to test oneself in an extreme environment, said psychologist Sergei Yenikolopov. “At moments like this, people often behave in unexpected ways. A timid person can become a hero in a critical situation, while a leader in everyday life proves a coward. But the popularity of these experiences has a dark side: it suggests the prevailing mood is one of boredom and disappointment, possibly even suicidal.”
Thrillers often become blockbusters. But going through a real-life extreme experience is not always voluntary. Companies now use them to inspire their teams and improve corporate culture.
In the past, companies preferred camping Russian-style, or inviting team-building trainers. Extreme service providers maintain nothing beats a good hike across an impenetrable forest or rafting down rivers to boost team spirit and morale.
Maxim is new to all this. He ended up with experiential training organizers after looking for an interesting job not requiring any special skills. Part of his job interview involved reaching a remote village using a map roughly sketched on a piece of paper. The work is fun and the pay is decent, he said.
“We have run sessions for the three largest mobile operators. It’s fun to watch these overworked executives arriving in the forest wearing expensive shoes only to be told they had to reach a camp with heating and electricity across the river,” he said.
Sometimes it’s rough on the organizers, too: once Maxim had to spend a whole day in the rain waving a flag at traffic to prevent his trainees being accidentally hit by a passing vehicle.
“Not everyone is prepared for this kind of experience,” Yenikolopov warns. “A survival experience can certainly unite a team, but in some cases, it splits. Someone who is not very fit may let the team down and lose self-esteem. What happens if the loser feels uncomfortable in this team afterwards? Some may even quit or sue their employer.”
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