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Turkmen gas against the background of geopolitics

A discussion in mass media on possible Central Asian states', and first of all Turkmenistan's, joining a consortium to run and develop Ukraine's gas transportation network has revealed a number of inconsistencies in approaches to the integration processes within the CIS.

It was not so long ago that Moscow seemed to have initiated a so-called "Gas alliance" to include Russia and Turkmenistan, as major producers of the "blue fuel" within the CIS, Ukraine, as a consumer of the significant volumes of gas, including the Russian and Turkmen gas, as well as Kazakhstan with Uzbekistan, as transit states of the Turkmen gas and potential exporters of this sort of fuel. It was, undoubtedly, good idea, but it was badly calculated from the point of view of present state of interstate relations in the CIS. It was not by coincidence that this idea has been completely forgotten not only by politicians but also by journalists after half a year since it was suggested and the "five leaders" signed a proper statement. Some of them, by the way, used the failed undertaking with the "Gas alliance" to shoot some more sharp criticism in Ashgabat address that was alleged to cut this project by his unmeasured ambitions of a great gas power.

As for the great gas power, everything is right. The ever increasing factor of the Turkmen gas in the real geopolitics, like it or not, is a proof of that. And one could see for himself by recent development of the events in and around the gas market that the ambitions of Turkmenistan are quite reasonable and based on its energy potential, and that sometime they look even underestimated.

Emotions burst out after some Ukrainian politicians made statements suggesting that Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan should be included as well in the above-mentioned consortium along with Ukraine, Russia and Germany. It is very interesting to see that the same Russian experts that have just recently accused Ahgabat of not living up to its obligations on setting up the "Gas alliance" and rebuked it for reluctance to join the integration processes, today oppose Kiev's intention to establish something similar to the "Gas alliance" of the Eurasian origin on the base of consortium and invite Turkmenistan to join it as a real player in the European gas market.

It is possible that someone will call the last phrase exaggeration arguing that the Turkmen gas has no direct connection with Europe. It is true. Ashgabat has no direct contacts with European states for the time being, but the factor of the Turkmen gas has a growing impact on general situation in the Eurasian market. For instance, it is impossible to ensure energy balances of such states as Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and other without the Turkmen gas. And starting from next year even "Gasprom" will not do without purchasing necessary volumes of gas in Turkmenistan to meet foreign contractual obligations. It has targeted buying 5-6 bln. cub.m of gas at the beginning and increasing the figures in geometric progression in the future.

The management of the Russian company is worth praising. They have made calculations for decades ahead and made a right conclusion by striking a contract with Turkmenistan. This is to say that Turkmenistan should not be viewed as a competitor but be made a strategic partner. Otherwise, "Gasprom" will lose its positions not only within the CIS but also among the Russian gas consumers in the European market. What is more important is that "Gasprom" strictly follows the signed documents and has, for example, started tackling the issue of expanding gas transportation capacities linking Turkmenistan with Russia by investing $2 bln.

But not everybody in Moscow agrees to modification of the well-known American formula - what is good for "Gasprom" is good for Russia. That is why some accusations are voiced sometimes of "Gasprom's" alleged buying "mythical Turkmen gas". Or, that the Turkmen gas should never reach Europe because it would mean death of the Russian monopoly.

Are these experts that hold forth at the level of the notorious Rem Viyakhirev and give such a primitive assessment of the Russian national interests worth arguing? One is required only to have a look at the bilateral 25-year agreement between Russia and Turkmenistan on cooperation in the gas field signed on April 10, 2003 in Kremlin by Vladimir Putin and Saparmurat Niyazov to understand that those critical statements are nonsense. This document provides for joint exploration of new gas fields in Turkmenistan, construction of new routes for the Turkmen "blue fuel" and joint development of new markets for the Turkmen gas. If Moscow and Ashgabat succeed in achieving those tasks there is a chance of the real integration! And a "Gasprom's" decision to open its representative office in Ashgabat is one of the first steps in this direction.

There is no doubt that the Russian-Turkmen partnership in the gas field will take a positive and permanent effect not only on the bilateral relations in other spheres but on further integration processes in the CIS and beyondt. Time has proven the Turkmen leader chose he right course when he had spoken against creation of supranational structures and attempts to force in integration from above in the wake of the former USSR republics' uniting in the CIS. "Considering different pace of development of the CIS member states the real integration will be possible only either at the bilateral level or on the basis of implementation of specific projects, including multilateral ones", Saparmurat Niyasov said at that time.

What we might add to this is that history shows that the Turkmen gas is destined to become a powerful factor of the real integration in the vast territory of Eurasia regardless of Ashgabat's ambitions or wishes of some politicians and experts. This factor will have to be reckoned with in earnest and for a long time.

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Charygeldi AMANOV

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