Talks to construct a gas pipeline from Russia that would serve both North and South Korea have resumed and the possibility is now back on the table with thawing relations between the two Koreas.
The proposal was initially undergoing formal talks some seven years ago, but stalled when diplomatic relations between the North and South soured.
Now, rather than taking shipments, South Korea can import Russian gas via pipeline, cutting their cost by half while the initiative would also serve as yet another unifying factor on the peninsula.
Russia’s energy major Gazprom has resumed talks with Seoul over the construction of a gas pipeline connecting Russia with North and South Korea.
“The political situation has changed, and the South Korean side has contacted Gazprom regarding the resumption of this project. A series of talks has been held, and these negotiations are continuing,” said Deputy Chairman of the Management Committee Vitaly Markelov.
The project to unite the Korean Peninsula with a gas pipeline has been discussed for a long time, but official talks started in 2011. The negotiations were frozen after relations between Seoul and Pyongyang deteriorated.
In March, Seoul announced that it is ready to resume the project. According to South Korea’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha “if the North participates in talks on Northeast Asia energy cooperation, it would serve as a catalyst that helps ease geopolitical tensions in the region.”
Energy-hungry South Korea is currently forced to buy more expensive liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments. If the pipeline is built, it would halve the costs of gas coming to the country, analysts have estimated.
South Korea’s only land border is with North Korea. In the past, Seoul has been concerned that, if the pipeline is built, Pyongyang could employ blackmail tactics or even block the transit.
South Korea is interested in buying 10 billion cubic meters of gas per year from Russia. At the moment, it already buys about 1.5 billion from Russia’s Arctic LNG plant in Yamal. The pipeline, if implemented, will be 1,100km long, of which 700 km should pass through North Korean territory. The project cost was estimated at $2.5 billion back in 2011.
In this way, Russia can further lend a hand to help stabilize the situation on the Korean peninsula as the efforts for peace and the denuclearization of the North’s regime under Kin Jong Un continue on pace. China has also been expressing its interests in developing economic infrastructure in the region, and is looking at incorporating the Korean peninsula into its global economic initiatives.