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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 25 February 2018

Saudi Arabia and Russia may team up on LNG, nuclear and chemicals

A Russian-Chinese firm could also participate in Aramco's planned IPO

Alexander Novak, Russia's energy minister, left and Khalid Al Falih, Saudi Arabia's energy and industry minister. The oil market's biggest rivals have set aside differences to collaborate on crude prices and now, LNG. Akos Stiller / Bloomberg
Alexander Novak, Russia's energy minister, left and Khalid Al Falih, Saudi Arabia's energy and industry minister. The oil market's biggest rivals have set aside differences to collaborate on crude prices and now, LNG. Akos Stiller / Bloomberg

Russia and Saudi Arabia are expected to finalise a major agreement in the LNG sector as the oil market's biggest producers look to boost their co-operation in the face of growing prominence of the US shale sector.

"I think today you will also see a big announcement between Saudi Aramco and a major LNG project in Russia, but let's wait for the announcement," Kirill Dmitriev, the head of Russian Direct Investment Fund, said in Riyadh ‪on Wednesday morning.

Neither side had issued a statement on the LNG development at the time of going to press.

A Russian-Chinese fund may participate in Saudi Aramco's planned initial public offering of 5 per cent of the company, as part of its ongoing diversification efforts, added Mr Dmitriev.

The partnership between Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter and Russia, the largest sovereign producer outside of Opec follows a precedent set by the unlikely allies in 2016, when they joined hands to undertake production cuts to prop up global oil prices. Saudi Arabia and Russia have through 2017 undertaken the lion's share of output curbs of around 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) and have agreed to an extension to the end of 2018.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak also said Wednesday that he discussed his country's involvement in possibly developing two nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia by 2019. Saudi Arabia plans to deploy 17 gigawatts of atomic power through 16 reactors by 2040.

Among other partnerships discussed between the two sides, include an engagement on climate policy, with energy ministers from both sides agreeing to meet in Jeddah in April to discuss their energy co-operation further, he added.

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Plans to develop a synthetic rubber production facility in the kingdom through a joint venture between Saudi Aramco and Russian petrochemical firm Sibur were also discussed, added Mr Novak.

The ties between the oil market's biggest rivals were strengthened after the visit of Saudi Arabia's King Salman to Moscow in October, when both sides discussed plans to set up a $1 billion dollar fund to invest in joint energy projects.

Saudi Arabia's interest in Russian natural gas was underscored when the kingdom's Energy and Industry Minister Khalid Al Falih made an appearance alongside President Vladimir Putin in December for the unveiling of the Arctic Yamal LNG plant - the world's coldest such facility.

At the opening, Mr Putin offered to sell Russian gas so that Saudi Arabia "could save its oil". Mr Al Falih was reported to have replied, "That's why I'm here."

Russia, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017, has the world's second-largest reserves of natural gas after Iran and is the world's second-largest producer of the fuel, which is being increasingly substituted for oil in Saudi stations. Saudi Arabia, which had burnt fuel oil to generate power is increasingly moving to gas-powered electricity to free up crude for export as well as to meet growing demand, particularly during summer months.