Dozens of Russian energy ventures are in jeopardy due to Western sanctions on technology and funding. Looming over them all, a giant project the Kremlin is bent on saving no matter what.
The Yamal plan, a $27 billion investment to tap vast natural gas reserves in northwest Siberia, aims to double Russia’s stake in the fast-growing market for liquefied natural gas. If it stays on track, it will also show the West that the world’s largest energy industry is not cracking under sanctions.
Russia has said it will make sure Yamal has the resources it needs to keep building. But that pledge will be tested: Yamal’s gas is so far in the Arctic North that it requires specialised technology often provided by Western partners – many of which will not be able to operate because of the restrictions.
And while Yamal’s shareholders have already invested $6 billion in it, U.S. and EU action has now effectively cut off the Russian energy firm’s access to Western lending.
Nonetheless, bankers and analysts returning from a recent trip to Yamal said they were impressed by the project’s status.
Some said it was hard to tell that Yamal’s controlling shareholder, gas firm Novatek, and its billionaire co-owner Gennady Timchenko were subject to some of the most severe U.S. and EU sanctions targeting Putin after he annexed Crimea in eastern Ukraine and lent backing to pro-Russia separatists.
“I was astonished by the pace and amount of work that has been done,” said Maxim Moshkov, oil analyst at UBS.
Some 6,000 people are currently working on the project and the number will rise to 15,000 next year.
“They work day and night… Having been there, I realised the project will most likely become a reality,” Moshkov said.
Andrey Polishchuk from Raiffeisen bank said: “They are building a new airport, storage tanks. Ships are coming to a nearby port one after another. Some are unloading goods, some are waiting to unload”.