Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury's Blog

Russia keen for India's expanding presence in Vladivostok even as China gains access to port

July 3, 2023

Even as China was able to take advantage of Russia’s isolation and get access to the Vladivostok port after 163 years, Russia is keen that India expands its presence at the port, said people aware of the matter.

Russia recently awarded China the right to run the Vladivostok port as an official transit point of China from Thursday. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin gave China official approval to supply natural gas via the Far east gas pipeline route, which ends in Vladivostok.


Source: Worldports

But simultaneously Russia is keen to accord further momentum to the Chennai-Vladivostok Maritime Corridor, which could give a huge boost to maritime ties between the two countries, said the people.

Recently, shipping minister Sarbananda Sonowal highlighted the importance of Chennai and Kamaraj Ports doing well and said it boost India’s maritime trade if they get connected to Russia’s Vladivostok port. The minister inaugurated a slew of projects worth Rs. 148 crore to uplift these Indian ports, enabling them to handle a cargo of 100 million metric tonnes and aid hassle-free evacuation of cargo.

The Chennai-Vladivostok Maritime Corridor will be utilised to transport metallurgical coal, crude oil and liquified natural gas from Russia to India on the Chennai-Vladivostok sea route, according to people in the know. If the project becomes a reality, then nearly 10,300 km or 5,600 nautical miles can be covered within 10 days, raising the possibility of major cargo shifting to this part of the world.

“One of the primary suggestions is the approach roads to Vladivostok Port need to be relaid and there is a requirement to do dredging to improve the draft. The study looked at the pros and cons of importing these items and how it can be handled,” said Sonowal.

The Vladivostok-Chennai maritime links were snapped after the breakup of the Soviet Union, only to be revived by the Modi government with support from the Russian President.

India has expressed interest in building a satellite city near Vladivostok. The two countries are also discussing the possibility of launching a trans-Arctic container shipping line and processing facilities along the Northern Sea Route.

Last year, Russia offered India “leasing and building large-capacity ships” as insurance on Russian oil amid the G7 price cap on its energy purchases. In 2021, India and Russia had decided to focus on the area of civilian shipbuilding to facilitate enhancement of interaction and specialist training, investments in shipbuilding and repair, scientific research, development of intelligent transport and navigation systems, and international transport corridors. Civilian ships are also intended for oil trade.

In 2021, Mazagaon Dock and Zvezda Shipyard of Russia signed an agreement for commercial shipping and building ships.

India has ambitious plans for the resource-rich Russian Far east and PM Narendra Modi had announced a $1 billion line of credit for various projects in the region while announcing India’s Act Far east Policy from Vladivostok in 2019. Russia holds the world’s largest known reserves of natural gas and a majority of these reserves are present in its Far east. India has investments in Sakhaklin-1 gas oil field in Russian Far east.

According to General Administration of Customs China, bilateral trade between China and Russia stood at $73.15 billion in the first four months of 2023, surging 41.3 per cent year-on-year. “With the opening of Vladivostok port, China and Russia can engage in more cooperation in port construction and logistics, further enhancing the economic vitality of north-eastern China and development in the Russian Far east,” said Song Kui, head of the Contemporary China- Russia Regional Economy Research Institute.

The Vladivostok port, formerly known as Haishenwai during the rule of the Qing dynasty, will provide cross-border transit for domestic trade shipments in Northeast China’s Jilin province. Historically, this city has been significant for both China and Russia. In 1860, China lost the second opium war, with the result that Vladivostok ceded to then Tsarist Russia.

The port will help reduce shipment time between China’s northeast to the eastern economic powerhouse of Zhejiang province. Distances will decrease by more than 800 kilometres between Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces in China. The access to the port is part of China’s national strategic plan to revitalise the industrial base in the north. Vladivostok, a major Pacific port city is a terminus of the trans-Siberian railway which links the city with Moscow. Vladivostok is also home to the Russian Pacific fleet and will give China closer access to Japan and South Korea. China is also strategically constructing oil and gas pipelines in Russia’s far east to build on its maritime presence and bolstering its ability to project power in the region.

(Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury is the Diplomatic Affairs Editor, The Economic Times. The article originally appeared in Economic Times on June 1, 2023) 

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