Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Sunday formally opened the Russian section of an oil pipeline to China, hailing it as an important step in diversifying energy exports away from Europe.

The new pipeline is a 64-km spur from the strategic 4,800-km Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) pipeline, whose first 2,700-km section Mr. Putin inaugurated in December.

The ESPO pipeline will initially carry 30 million tonnes of crude a year, half of which will go to China. Russia plans to eventually increase the pipeline's capacity to 50 million tonnes a year.

Diversifying sales

“This is an important project for us as we diversify sales of our energy resources. Today our main deliveries are to European partners, who get around 120-130 million tonnes of our oil,” Mr. Putin said in televised remarks, adding that the ESPO pipeline created “noticeable competition to the European route.”

China is still to build 930 km of the pipeline on its territory to link up the Russian section of the pipeline with refineries in its north-eastern city of Daqing, but Mr. Putin said he was “absolutely sure that Russian oil will run to China this year.”

Beijing had heavily lobbied Moscow to build the East Siberian pipeline to China only, but Russia decided to extend it to its Pacific ports in the Far East in order to have a choice of customers.

Under a deal signed last year China gave Russia a $25-billion loan, including $10 billion for the construction of the East Siberia pipeline, and Russia agreed to pump 300 million tonnes of crude to China through 2030.

Russia will also get access to the Chinese retail market, setting up oil refineries and opening about 500 petrol stations in the neighbouring country, said Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin.

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