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China finally switching to Russian gas

Article in Global Times complains of irregular deliveries of gas from Central Asia; hinting at preference for Russian gas

Alexander Mercouris

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As the giant Power of Siberia pipeline intended to transport natural gas from Yakutia and the Irkutsk areas of Russia to China approaches completion, with Gazprom saying that it is now two-thirds complete, the semi-official Chinese newspaper Global Times has published an article complaining about irregularities in the supply of gas from China’s traditional Central Asian gas suppliers, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The sharp drop of liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments through a key Central Asian pipeline network has put the already-tight domestic LNG supply situation to the test.

There are two reasons for the plunging shipments: first, LNG demand increased in the supplier countries themselves; second, the suppliers were withholding LNG in hopes of getting better prices in other markets. Those factors prompted the suppliers to break the terms of their contracts with China.

According to a statement by China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) issued on January 31, the nation’s LNG supply situation has been deteriorating. The volume of LNG received through central Asian pipeline networks has fallen by nearly half, domestic news portal jiemian.com reported. The sudden cuts by two Central Asian countries, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, added a new risk to the Chinese energy supply network. China needs to re-evaluate the security of its energy supply network in Central Asia.

According to insiders at China’s three major State-owned oil companies, the Central Asian countries failed to provide China with the contracted volumes of LNG with the excuse that they didn’t have enough money to repair broken LNG equipment. A notice issued by CNPC stated that Central Asian countries owe China an average LNG volume of 30 million cubic meters per day, according to jiemian.com

Sources also said that China National United Oil Corp is negotiating with these LNG suppliers. But it seems that Chinese oil companies have no bargaining chip if the suppliers don’t keep their end of the deal. Instead of China, the suppliers can potentially send LNG to Europe at a higher price.

The cut in LNG supplies has added a new risk factor to China’s energy security, with domestic LNG inventories at record lows. Data from the Beijing oil & gas transportation center showed that the domestic natural gas pipeline network had “emergency” storage of 1.99 billion cubic meters at the end of January. According to jiemian.com, as of January 30, the volume available for sale in the current pipeline network was 420 million cubic meters per day whereas demand was 445 million cubic meters per day, in addition to the network’s own use of 5 million cubic meters per day. So the domestic supply gas is about 30 million cubic meters per day.

As a result, CNPC must ration the supply and sale of LNG to avoid a total collapse of the LNG pipeline system.

The China-Central Asia LNG pipeline, which starts at the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan on the banks of the Amu Darya River, is one of the world’s longest LNG pipeline. The gas pipeline runs about 10,000 kilometers, with 188 kilometers in Turkmenistan, 530 kilometers in Uzbekistan, 1,300 kilometers in Kazakhstan and 8,000 kilometers in China.

Turkmenistan is the largest pipeline LNG exporter to China. But since January, the gas concern there has shut down supply three times.

If all these figures are true, the risk is obvious: Central Asia has emerged as a broken link in the international energy security network that China has made such effort to forge.

With China participating in globalization as the “world’s factory,” ensuring energy security is vital for China. China has put huge resources (in banking, diplomacy, investment, markets and public finance) and effort into building a five-channel international energy supply network to satisfy the world’s largest oil and gas demand.

As China adjusts its energy consumption structure, switching to green energy, the demand for LNG will constantly grow and create a heavy dependency on foreign resources. The high dependency on LNG from Turkmenistan has become a potential security risk.

If this situation continues, it will not only lead to unexpected problems for State-owned petroleum corporations, it will also leave the Chinese government unprepared. If the key passage of LNG is not stable, the security of China’s international energy supply network must be re-evaluated.

Russia and the Power of Siberia pipeline are conspicuously never mentioned in this article.  Nonetheless Chinese anger and concern about the breaches of contract by their traditional Central Asian gas suppliers is clear enough, as is the urgently expressed need for China to diversify away from them to a more reliable supplier, which can only be Russia.

The article in fact highlights the key role of natural gas in China’s future energy mix.

A visit to Shanghai in August impressed on me the extent to which the disastrous state of air pollution has become a major political and social in China, with China having a pressing need to move towards a ‘greener’ energy mix and to move away from its present over-reliance on coal.

As the article in Global Times shows, natural gas plays a critical role in all this, even as China forges ahead with alternative energy technologies, and a stable and reliable supply of gas to the Chinese energy market is regarded by China as essential for its energy security.

It turns out that the Chinese are finding that the Central Asian states upon which they have up to now relied for their gas are unable to maintain their gas pipeline infrastructure – much of which was built by the USSR – and are not above abusing their monopoly positions in China’s gas market to extort from China a higher price for their gas, even if this involves breaking their contracts with China.

This contrasts with Gazprom, which has a well-earned reputation for being an exceptionally reliable supplier, invariably honouring its gas supply contracts, and having all the technical and logistical resources needed to maintain its gas pipeline and gas transportation infrastructure and network in good working order.

The logic of substituting Gazprom and Russia for the Central Asian states as China’s main source of natural gas is obvious, and the Global Times article both highlights it and hints at it.

The Global Times article highlights a key point about Russian-Chinese economy cooperation.

Though trade between the countries does not approach the volumes of trade between China and the US or the EU, it is rising rapidly, with the two countries having resources which compliment each other.

Moreover Russia looks to be becoming an increasingly important source for China’s energy and raw material imports, as China discovers the difficulty of importing them reliably from elsewhere, and must also worry about US threats to blockade China’s main sea route, the South China Sea.

Russia has already replaced Saudi Arabia as China’s main source of oil.  It looks increasingly positioned to replace the Central Asian states as China’s main source of natural gas as well.

The economic linkages between the two countries are growing bigger and stronger, with their importance to each country starting to transcend their physical volume, as each comes to rely more on the other for the critical imports each needs.

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Foreign Banks Are Embracing Russia’s Alternative To SWIFT, Moscow Says

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative.

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Via Zerohedge


On Friday, one day after Russia and China pledged to reduce their reliance on the dollar by increasing the amount of bilateral trade conducted in rubles and yuan (a goal toward which much progress has already been made over the past three years), Russia’s Central Bank provided the latest update on Moscow’s alternative to US-dominated international payments network SWIFT.

Moscow started working on the project back in 2014, when international sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea inspired fears that the country’s largest banks would soon be cut off from SWIFT which, though it’s based in Belgium and claims to be politically neutral, is effectively controlled by the US Treasury.

Today, the Russian alternative, known as the System for Transfer of Financial Messages, has attracted a modest amount of support within the Russian business community, with 416 Russian companies having joined as of September, including the Russian Federal Treasury and large state corporations likeGazprom Neft and Rosneft.

And now, eight months after a senior Russian official advised that “our banks are ready to turn off SWIFT,” it appears the system has reached another milestone in its development: It’s ready to take on international partners in the quest to de-dollarize and end the US’s leverage over the international financial system. A Russian official advised that non-residents will begin joining the system “this year,” according to RT.

“Non-residents will start connecting to us this year. People are already turning to us,”said First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia Olga Skorobogatova. Earlier, the official said that by using the alternative payment system foreign firms would be able to do business with sanctioned Russian companies.

Turkey, China, India and others are among the countries that might be interested in a SWIFT alternative, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out in a speech earlier this month, the US’s willingness to blithely sanction countries from Iran to Venezuela and beyond will eventually rebound on the US economy by undermining the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

To be sure, the Russians aren’t the only ones building a SWIFT alternative to help avoid US sanctions. Russia and China, along with the European Union are launching an interbank payments network known as the Special Purpose Vehicle to help companies pursue “legitimate business with Iran” in defiance of US sanctions.

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative. For one, much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.

And as Russian trade with other US rivals increases, Moscow’s payments network will look increasingly attractive,particularly if buyers of Russian crude have no other alternatives to pay for their goods.

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Converting Khashoggi into Cash

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose.

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The hazard of writing about the Saudis’ absurd gyrations as they seek to avoid blame for the murder of the late, not notably great journalist and Muslim Brotherhood activist Jamal Khashoggi is that by the time a sentence is finished, the landscape may have changed again.

As though right on cue, the narrative has just taken another sharp turn.

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has ‘fessed up (sorta) and admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose:

Y’see, it was kinda’f an ‘accident.’

Oops…

Y’see the guys were arguing, and … uh … a fistfight broke out.

Yeah, that’s it … a ‘fistfight.’

And before you know it poor Jamal had gone all to pieces.

Y’see?

Must’ve been a helluva fistfight.

The figurative digital ink wasn’t even dry on that whopper before American politicos in both parties were calling it out:

  • “To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement,” tweeted Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “First we were told Mr. Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement. Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince. It’s hard to find this latest ‘explanation‘ as credible.”
  • California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the new Saudi explanation is “not credible.” “If Khashoggi was fighting inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he was fighting for his life with people sent to capture or kill him,” Schiff said. “The kingdom and all involved in this brutal murder must be held accountable, and if the Trump administration will not take the lead, Congress must.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan must think he’s already died and gone to his eternal recreation in the amorous embraces of the dark-eyed houris. The acid test for the viability of Riyadh’s newest transparent lie is whether the Turks actually have, as they claim, live recordings of Khashoggi’s interrogation, torture, murder, and dismemberment (not necessarily in that order) – and if they do, when Erdogan decides it’s the right time to release them.

Erdogan has got the Saudis over a barrel and he’ll squeeze everything he can out of them.

From the beginning, the Khashoggi story wasn’t really about the fate of one man. The Saudis have been getting away with bloody murder, literally, for years. They’re daily slaughtering the civilian population of Yemen with American and British help, with barely a ho-hum from the sensitive consciences always ready to invoke the so-called “responsibility to protect” Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, Syria, Xinjiang, Rakhine, and so forth.

Where’s the responsibility not to help a crazed bunch of Wahhabist head-choppers kill people?

But now, just one guy meets a grisly end and suddenly it’s the most important homicide since the Lindbergh baby.

What gives?

Is it because Khashoggi was part of the MSM aristocracy, on account of his relationship with the Washington Post?

Was it because of his other, darker, connections? As related by Moon of Alabama: “Khashoggi was a rather shady guy. A ‘journalist’ who was also an operator for Saudi and U.S. intelligence services. He was an early recruit of the Muslim Brotherhood.” This relationship, writes MoA, touches on the interests of pretty much everyone in the region:

“The Ottoman empire ruled over much of the Arab world. The neo-Ottoman wannabe-Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan would like to regain that historic position for Turkey. His main competition in this are the al-Sauds. They have much more money and are strategically aligned with Israel and the United States, while Turkey under Erdogan is more or less isolated. The religious-political element of the competition is represented on one side by the Muslim Brotherhood, ‘democratic’ Islamists to which Erdogan belongs, and the Wahhabi absolutists on the other side.”

With the noose tightening around Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), the risible fistfight cock-and-bull story is likely to be the best they can come up with. US President Donald Trump’s having offered his “rogue killers” opening suggests he’s willing to play along. Nobody will really be fooled, but MbS will hope he can persuade important people to pretend they are fooled.

That will mean spreading around a lot of cash. The new alchemy of converting Khashoggi dead into financial gain for the living is just one part of an obvious scheme to pull off what Libya’s Muammar Kaddafi managed after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing: offer up some underlings as the fall guys and let the top man evade responsibility. (KARMA ALERT: That didn’t do Kaddafi any good in the long run.)

In the Saudi case the Lockerbie dodge will be harder, as there are already pictures of men at the Istanbul Consulate General identified as close associates of MbS. But they’ll give it the old madrasa try anyway since it’s all they’ve got.Firings and arrests have started and one suspect has already died in a suspicious automobile “accident.” Heads will roll!

Saving MbS’s skin and his succession to the throne of his doddering father may depend on how many of the usual recipients of Saudi – let’s be honest – bribery and influence peddling will find sufficient pecuniary reason to go along. Saudi Arabia’s unofficial motto with respect to the US establishment might as well be: “The green poultice heals all wounds.”

Anyway, that’s been their experience up to now, but it also in part reflects the same arrogance that made MbS think he could continue to get away with anything. (It’s not shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, but it’s close.) Whether spreading cash around will continue to have the same salubrious effect it always has had in the past remains to be seen.

To be sure, Trump may succeed in shaking the Saudi date palm for additional billions for arms sales. That won’t necessarily turn around an image problem that may not have a remedy. But still, count on more cash going to high-price lobbying and image-control shops eager to make obscene money working for their obscene client. Some big American names are dropping are dropping Riyadh in a sudden fit of fastidiousness, but you can bet others will be eager to step into their Guccis, both in the US and in the United Kingdom. (It should never be forgotten how closely linked the US and UK establishments are in the Middle East, and to the Saudis in particular.)

It still might not work though. No matter how much expensive PR lipstick the spinmeisters put on this pig, that won’t make it kissable. It’s still a pig.

Others benefitting from hanging Khashoggi’s death around MbS’s neck are:

  • Qatar (after last year’s invasion scare, there’s no doubt a bit of Schadenfreude and (figurative) champagne corks popping in Doha over MbS’s discomfiture. As one source close to the ruling al-Thani family relates, “The Qataris are stunned speechless at Saudi incompetence!” You just can’t get good help these days).

Among the losers one must count Israel and especially Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. MbS, with his contrived image as the reformer, was the Sunni “beard” he needed to get the US to assemble an “Arab NATO” (as though one NATO weren’t bad enough!) and eliminate Iran for him. It remains to be seen how far that agenda has been set back.

Whether or not MbS survives or is removed – perhaps with extreme prejudice – there’s no doubt Saudi Arabia is the big loser. Question are being asked that should have been asked years ago. As Srdja Trifkovic comments in Chronicles magazine:

“The crown prince’s recklessness in ordering the murder of Khashoggi has demonstrated that he is just a standard despot, a Mafia don with oil presiding over an extended cleptocracy of inbred parasites. The KSA will not be reformed because it is structurally not capable of reform. The regime in Riyadh which stops being a playground of great wealth, protected by a large investment in theocratic excess, would not be ‘Saudi’ any longer. Saudia delenda est.”

The first Saudi state, the Emirate of Diriyah, went belly up in 1818, with the death of head of the house of al-Saud, Abdullah bin Saud – actually, literally with his head hung on a gate in Constantinople by Erdogan’s Ottoman predecessor, Sultan Mahmud II.

The second Saudi state, Emirate of Nejd, likewise folded in 1891.

It’s long past time this third and current abomination joined its antecedents on the ash heap of history.

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Saudis Admit Khashoggi Killed At Consulate “In Fist-Fight”, King Salman Fires 5 Top Officials

Saudi Arabia confirmed tonight that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed at its consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

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Democrat Congressman Adam Schiff has weighed in on the Khashoggi murder admission from KSA claiming “the Saudi report of Khashoggi is not credible.”

The White House issue a statement…

Via Zerohedge


Saudi Arabia confirmed tonight that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed at its consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

In a statement put out on Saudi state television, citing an initial investigation by Saudi prosecutors, SPA said that:

“an argument erupted between him [Khashoggi] and others whom he met in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul leading to a fistfight which led to his death.”

Prosecutors said the investigation was still ongoing and that 18 people, all Saudi nationals, had so far been arrested, SPA reported.

“The Kingdom expresses its deep regret at the painful developments that have taken place and stresses the commitment of the authorities in the Kingdom to bring the facts to the public,” the statement said.

Additionally, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has removed a key royal adviser and a senior intelligence official..

King Salman issued an order to remove Saud al-Qahtani, an adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to the state-run Ikhbariya television.

The monarch also relieved deputy intelligence chief Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri.

This follows the narrative reported by The New York Times on Thursday that Riyadh is looking to blame Assiri for the purported murder of Khashoggi in an effort to shield Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from the blame.

Saudi King Salman has also ordered the formation of ministerial committee led by crown prince Mohammad bin Salman to restructure the general intelligence agency.

As Ali Shihabi, Founder, The Arabia Foundation, tweets:

“The removal of two top officials, a cabinet ranking, very powerful and close advisor of MBS and the Deputy Head of Foreign intelligence + 4 other Generals in foreign intelligence (virtually its whole top leadership) cannot be written off as a cover up. This is unprecedented.”

This is not saying “rogue killers” but implicating virtually the whole top leadership of foreign intelligence. They carried out a mission that went sour very quickly and tried to cover it up initially. Bad news travels slowly to the top.”

We await President Trump’s “very severe consequences.”

 

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