Russia's Rosneft state oil giant announced Wednesday that it had signed a framework agreement with Japan's Marubeni Corporation for the possible construction of a liquified natural gas plant in the Russian Far East.
The announcement marks one of Rosneft's biggest efforts to date to diversify beyond the oil market and present a direct challenge to Russia's natural gas firm Gazprom.
Rosneft -- Russia's largest oil company -- said in a statement that the memorandum of understanding says the parties will "consider possibilities for cooperation in implementing the LNG project, which includes the engineering and construction of an LNG plant."
The agreement also foresees financing and transportation of the LNG using tankers to world markets.
The Marubeni Corporation is one of Japan's leading trading companies.
Tokyo is eager to tap Russia's vast natural gas market because of Japan's own minimal energy supplies.
The world's third-largest economy is already cooperating with Russia in natural gas production in various Sakhalin Island projects.
But that work is lead by Gazprom -- the natural gas export monopoly that has had a stranglehold on the domestic market so far.
"We are glad one of the leading Japanese companies has decided to join our plans to explore and develop oil and gas fields as well as implement the LNG project in the Russian Far East," said Rosneft chief executive Igor Sechin.
"The agreements reached today are aimed, among other things, at ensuring a sales market in Japan, which will strengthen Rosneft's positions in the promising Asia-Pacific market."
Rosneft would need the Kremlin's permission to break Gazprom's exclusive international export rights in order to follow through with the LNG deal.
Sechin had earlier said he hoped to get the LNG project up and running by 2018.
But President Vladimir Putin told Sechin in televised remarks earlier this month that Rosneft needed to agree its plans with the government before it could proceed.