Russia opened a new oil export terminal Monday to serve as a gateway for energy exports to Asia.
With the click of a computer mouse, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin began the filling of a Hong Kong-bound tanker at the terminal in the Far Eastern port of Kozmino.
"It's a great New Year's gift for Russia," Putin said at the opening ceremony, televised nationally.
Russia has been seeking new markets for its energy exports, most of which have gone to Europe.
Putin said the 60 billion ruble ($2 billion) Kozmino terminal would enable Russia "to enter the growing markets of the Asia-Pacific region."
Kozmino is the destination for a new crude pipeline from eastern Siberia's oil fields. The first 2,750-kilometer (1,700-mile) section of the pipeline was completed last month between Taishet, in eastern Siberia, and Skovorodino, near the Chinese border. But exports to energy-hungry China are expected to start only in 2011, after the countries' pipeline systems are linked.
The 360 billion-ruble ($12 billion) Taishet-Skovorodino pipeline was completed quickly, after China in February provided $25 billion in loans to Russian state energy companies in exchange for oil supplies for the next 20 years.
A second 2,100-kilometer (1,300-mile) section of the pipeline between Skovorodino and Kozmino is expected to be completed by 2012. Until then, oil is being carried by rail.
"The pipeline's launch will strengthen Russia's energy security," said Nikolai Tokarev, the president of Russia's state-controlled Transneft oil company, which operates the pipeline.
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