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Turkmen gas as a tool of integration
At last, all disputes over the topic, which at the beginning did not seem to be a point of discussion, have settled down. However, certain point of views alleging that it is not profitable for Russian monopolist to deal with the Turkmen gas have occasionally come out in the press, former "Gasprom's" boss Rem Vyakhirev being apparently behind it.

Neither serious studies nor calculations were cited there. They did not explain, for instance, as to why it is more suitable to extract "blue fuel" in the arctic zone and take it three thousand kilometers down to Europe instead of buying much cheaper gas from Turkmenistan for the same needs. The only argument of the specific nature was a comparison of the Turkmen gas price at the border of Turkmenistan and ... Russian's internal value of gas. The difference in the figures, which are incorrect to compare (population of Turkmenistan gets gas for free, and as for Russia it was not a secret either in Vyakhirev's time or nowadays that Russia has always tried to buy Turkmen gas, to say the least of it, not only for the internal needs), has been presented as a "ferroconcrete" factor both at the bilateral talks and in newspapers.

The effect of such a policy is well known. For almost two years - in late 90th - the pipeline going north remained shut down for the Turkmen gas. Both countries suffered hundred millions of dollar losses. Ukraine, a traditional consumer of the Turkmen gas, has also suffered - let's recall scandals around the so-called over consumption of gas.

The rise to power of Putin in Russia has lead to changes in Moscow's policy in this direction too. Vyakhirev had to go to Turkmenbashi and publicly apologize for "childish", in his words, statements of abusive language in the press about Turkmenistan and its people.

Niyazov accepted apologies but did not accept disadvantageous conditions of gas shipments. Putin had to break in to make Vyakhirev pipe down and sign contract for purchasing of 20 bln.m3 of the Turkmen gas. International company "ITERA", having sufficient experience of dealing with not always capable of paying consumers of CIS countries, was charged with functions of operator.

With the replacement of "Gasprom" management it seems that not only an approach to the issue of "ITERA" services has changed. Russian gas monopolist finally publicly admitted that there are simply no alternatives to the mutually beneficial cooperation with Turkmenistan. There finally appeared sober-minded people and concrete calculations. "Gasprom's department of economic expertise and prices calculated that the company's investments into realization of Yamal program would produce at best 7-10 kopeiks per 1 rubl of investments" - "Neftegazovaya vertical" magazine wrote lately. At the same time the profit from implementation of trade schemes on Russian gas substitution by the Central Asian gas would make 45-50 kopeik per 1 rubl "at the outlet" of "pipeline" to Europe, considering current maximum price of 1 bln.m3 Turkmenistan is paid at present time. And if the price is $45-47 it will make 30 kopeik profit, "Gasprom" believes.

To make a start "Gasprom" took over responsibilities of operator on Turkmen gas shipments to Ukraine. You bet: $500-600 mln. is a good money even for such a giant like "Gasprom". Then people in the headquarters concentrated on speeding up the signing of comprehensive agreement with Turkmenistan on partnership in the gas field. It has to include not only assistance to shipments of hydrocarbons from Karakum desert to Ukraine but direct "Gasprom's" purchases from Turkmenistan and joint efforts on exploration of the fields there as well, including Caspian shelf, and possibly realization of large pipeline projects.

The recent visit of "Gasprom" head Alexey Miller to Ashgabat and negotiations he held with the President of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov and leadership of the oil and gas industry was not much open to press. The sides are possibly not very much optimistic that they will sign an agreement in the near future. Or it could again be big policy that affects pure economical process issues. Nevertheless a breakthrough in the "gas" relations of two states has taken place and there is no doubt about it. Moscow unambiguously signaled that the Turkmen gas market is not only of interest but rather of paramount importance to Russia both in the short and, moreover, in the long run perspective when it will be much harder for Russia to meet its obligations before European consumers. And as to the time of cooling in "gas" relations between two countries provoked by Vyakhirev the leader of Turkmenistan had persistently repeated that Russia and Turkmenistan must act as partners and not as competitors in the world market of "blue fuel".

Another, may be disputable, idea of Niyazov is that the real force of integration processes in the post-soviet area lies not with the so called unifying structures like regional organizations of economic cooperation or inexplicable GUUAM but with realization of big joint projects. As a matter of fact distrustful attitude of Ashgabat towards the idea of creation of the "Gas Alliance" by the number of states is of the same nature. In opinion of the official Turkmenistan such major steps like Contract with Ukraine for 5 years on shipments of 250 bln. m3 of gas; Agreement with Russia, the draft document of which provides for complex partnership for the period up to 2010; possible joint participation - with Russia, Ukraine and other countries - in realization of the Trans-Afghan oil and gas pipeline projects; reconstruction of the "pipeline" through which Turkmen gas goes north; possible construction of parallel pipelines and, in general, specific cooperation in specific projects represent not verbal but real integration.

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By Charygeldi AMANOV

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