Bolivia signs huge lithium deal with Russia

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The President of Bolivia, Luis Arce, the President of YLB Karla Calderon and the representative of the Russian company, Yuri Uliyanin show the signed agreement between Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos (YLB) and the company Uranium One Group for the implementation of a pilot lithium production plant, in La Paz, Bolivia December 13, 2023. REUTERS/Claudia Morales

Bolivia, a nation boasting one of the world’s largest lithium reserves, revealed a $450 million agreement on Wednesday with the Russian state group Uranium One to exploit the vital mineral crucial for the shift towards clean energy.

The deal outlines the establishment of a pilot plant for lithium extraction, a key component in the production of batteries for electric vehicles, as announced by both parties during a ceremony in La Paz. Uranium One, a subsidiary of the Russian atomic energy powerhouse Rosatom, will shoulder the entire investment until 2025, amounting to $450 million.

Bolivian President Luis Arce underscored that this agreement confirms the production and marketing model Bolivia proposed to all companies that want to work with lithium.

Bolivia possesses approximately 23 million tonnes of proven lithium reserves, making it one of the largest global reservoirs alongside Chile and Argentina, forming the renowned “lithium triangle.” Uranium One secured the contract after prevailing over six other bidders in an auction initiated by the Bolivian state-owned company Yacimientos de Litio Boliviano (YLB) over a year ago.

Karla Calderon, president of YLB, disclosed that the pilot plant is set to produce 1,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate in its inaugural year, with plans to escalate production to 14,000 tonnes annually. Bolivia anticipates its lithium exports to surpass five billion dollars next year, exceeding the revenue generated by its gas sales, which was its primary resource until recently, now grappling with a severe crisis owing to insufficient investment.

Bolivia-Russia relations have grown in recent years, primarily along political lines. Moscow likely sees value in pursuing a closer relationship with Bolivia, based on Bolivia’s anti-U.S. stance and its vocal promotion of multipolarity in the international order. In the UN, Bolivia has followed Moscow’s lead several times in opposing U.S.-backed resolutions and had maintained a neutral stance regarding Russia-Ukraine War.


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