This is a kind of bits-and-bobs post without a lot of coherence, as I am trying to make sense of something which is hard to make sense of, so anyone with more specialist knowledge, please chip-in.
Now I think what we have here is a highly complex situation, and if individual actors behave strangely in a complex situation, this should not in fact surprise us. The big picture scenario is the economic take-off of what are going to be two enormous energy consumers – India and China – and a growing per-capita consumption of energy in the rest of the OECD towards the previous US ‘highs’. This has lead to a large and significant increase in oil prices, and the rest of what is happening can be seen as the scrum which has assembled in the wake.
Secondly there is this news :
At a solemn ceremony on December 15, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev pressed the button to officially begin pumping oil at the Atasu terminal along the new Atasu-Alashankou pipeline. ….The planned extension of the Kenkyak-Atyrau pipeline built in 2003 to the Kumkol oil fields in Kyzylorda region (south Kazakhstan) will increase greatly the volume of oil to be delivered to the refinery in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Republic.
In other words, it is possible to build pipelines in more than one direction.
Much of the oil needed to fill the pipeline is expected to come from the Kumkol fields in south Kazakhstan, which China gained after the acquisition of the PetroKazakhstan oil company, and Chinese-owned oil deposits in Aktobe region, west Kazakhstan. However, China needs Russia’s Siberian oil to make the pipeline profitable. The endeavor requires a great deal of diplomatic skill not only from Beijing, but also from Astana.
Also, gentle reader, kindly note:
“It is also possible that India might join the gas pipeline project.”
Really I know hopelessly little about the whole Siberian and Asian gas issues, but maybe we are all just about to become experts, among other reasons because after Russia the other major gas producer seems to be Iran.
As background reading I would heartily recommend this paper – Siberia: Russia’s Economic Heartland and Daunting Dilemma – by Brooking’s Fiona Hill and this one – Demographic/Health Problems in the Russian Federation: Trends, Dimensions, Implications – by Nicholas Eberstadt.
Especially this part of the latter paper:
But Russiaâ€™s demographic decline can be viewed in terms of its specific regional as well as broader its global geopolitical implications. One area that falls under especially intense demographic pressure is the vast expanse of the Russian Far East. Despite the regionâ€™s ostensible development potential, the fact is that the area has never attracted much in the way of natural settlement, nor supported much in the way of self-sustaining enterprise. Quite the contrary: the peopling of the Russian Far East, both during the Russian Imperial age and the Soviet era, was historically predicated upon involuntary movement of forced laborâ€”and massive economic subsidy.
With those subsidies programmatically interrupted in the post-Communist era, the Russian Far East has registered especially sharp demographic decline, most of it due to out-migration. Whereas Russia as a whole reported a population decline of less than 1.5% between its 1989 and 2002 censuses, the Russian Far East registered
a drop of about 15%. Some parts of the territory experienced even more precipitous depopulation over that interval: Sakhalin was down 23%; Kamchatka, 24%, Magadan, over 50%.44 [SEE FIGURE 32] And given the Russian Far Eastâ€™s environmentally and climatically challenged prospects for truly business-worthy undertakings, the impending decline of the Russian population base, and the national economyâ€™s less than unlimited potential for lavishing unrequited financial rewards upon current or future residents of the tract, it is by no means clear that this enormous territoryâ€™s tiny populationâ€”currently, less than 7 million people stretched across a space of 2.4 million square milesâ€”can remain as densely populated as it current is over the decades ahead.
The present â€œnear-demographic vacuumâ€ in the Russian Far Eastâ€”and the prospect that population density in the region may decline still further in the years aheadâ€”has invited continuing geopolitical speculations of a â€œyellow perilâ€ hue in contemporary Russian journalistic and political circles, with sometimes anxious imaginings that a populous and overcrowded Chinese neighbor would encourage a Volkswanderung north, to colonize and (re)claim the terrain. Those imaginings, it must be said, seem to be informed more by xenophobic fears than economic
reasoning: the economic fundamentals of the frozen Russian Far East, after all, are scarcely more appealing to Chinese peasants than to the regionâ€™s fleeing Russian citizens. (If anything, the region may be even less hospitable in Chinese than Russian eyes for a variety of cultural reasons.)
Be that as it may: even if there is no â€œpushâ€ from China into this vast and open territory, an empty and otherwise unprotected expanse, which borders both a rapidly changing China and a perennially belligerent North Koreaâ€”and which includes the site of an unsettled territorial dispute with Japanâ€”is likely to remain a continuing security concern to policymakers in Moscow, and stands likely only to add to the defense and internal affairs outlays that the Russian stateâ€™s diminishing population will be obliged to finance over the years ahead.
Fiona Hill makes equally interesting reading on this very same topic.