Russian president's special envoy on international energy cooperation Igor Yusufov comments on prospects and problems of economic cooperation with Turkmenistan in an interview to a correspondent of "Nezavisimaya gazeta".
- Why did Turkmenistan raise the issue of a gas price increase for Russia and Ukraine?
- "Gazprom" and "Turkmenneftgaz" signed a long-term 25-year contract on gas supplies from Turkmenistan to Russia, Ukraine and Caucasus through the Russian territory. Under the contract for 2005-2006, the price of gas is fixed.
Turkmenistan and Ukraine also have an agreement on the supply of 36 billion cubic meters of gas to Ukraine. Taking into account the overall economic situations in our countries, the world prices for gas and inflationary processes (the prices for a number of products supplied to Turkmenistan on a barter basis as partial payment for gas soared), Turkmenistan has figured up the expected profits from gas supplies to Russia and Ukraine and found it possible to review the gas price. We know that Turkmenistan and Ukraine held talks in the beginning of this January during which the sides reached a consensus, and the price was increased from US $ 44 to 58 per one thousand cubic meters of gas. The same issue was raised by the Turkmen side as regards the gas price in our contract. Negotiations on this issue are under way, experts of "Gazprom" examine this situation. "Gazprom" CEO Aleksey Miller's visit to Turkmenistan was successful. He was received by the president of Turkmenistan. As a matter of fact, economic issues are under the personal control of President Saparmurat Niyazov.
- Are you saying there will be no gas war which is so much mulled in press these days?
- No, the point is solely about a dialogue. The discussion is justified, and I think the sides will find a mutually acceptable solution. We will closely examine arguments presented by the Turkmen side and look for a possibility of drawing our positions closer to each other.
- Igor Hanukovich, to what extent, if at all, cooperation in energy sphere with Turkmenistan is important for us. Maybe, we should not pay so much attention to it, for we have enough our own resources and projects?
- It is a very important and vital issue. I think cooperation with Turkmenistan in the gas sphere is extremely important and necessary for Russia and "Gazprom" in particular. Turkmenistan has always been a resource base for Russia and Ukraine. "Gazprom" keeps counting Turkmen gas in its balance, and we practically have no alternative today. It is impossible to replace such huge volumes of gas which we receive from Turkmenistan with other sources in a short time. We are doomed to successful, mutually advantageous cooperation with Turkmenistan in a good sense of this word. This is our strategic goal supported by presidents of our countries. The aforementioned strategic 25-year contract was signed with their assistance. We should follow the spirit and letter of the achieved agreements. Besides, a memorandum on establishment of a joint venture by the Turkmen side and Russian companies "Zarubezhneft", "Rosneft" and "Itera" was signed. I believe the Iranian colleagues will be invited to participate in this project as they show interest in it. We have to try to sign and put all arrangements on paper in the near future. This contract can be also considered the important step towards development of the Caspian shelf resources. At the same time, we examine the Turkmen side's proposal to boost oil supplies to the Seidi oil refinery from Siberia through Kazakhstan. Oil refining products will meet the needs of domestic market and be exported abroad, first of all, to northern Iran, experiencing great shortage of oil products. We are ready to consider Turkmenistan's offers to foreign investors in the field of oil refining and petrochemistry.
- Is it possible that the problem of the Caspian Sea legal status will prevent development of its resource base?
- Certainly, it is one of the major problems. The 16th session of a working group on drawing the convention on the Caspian Sea status wrapped up in the end of this January. The session was held in Ashgabat. We have a number of disagreements in our approaches. I mean all five states (Russia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Iran - "NG"). At present, we talk about the development of shelf deposits which are absolutely in territorial waters of Turkmenistan. We don't talk about the so-called disputable deposits. Their development should be kicked off only after reaching an agreement and settling bilateral disputes between these countries. Russia has fully workable agreements with Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan are now close to reaching an agreement. There are practically no problems between Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. It is expected that both Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan will soon start discussing their terms of agreements with Iran. It will become possible then for Turkmen, Azerbaijan and Iranian companies to participate on the equal basis in the development of all deposits, above all, oil and gas deposits in the southern part of the Caspian sea. We are ready to take part in these projects should these countries make such offers to Russian companies. First of all, we believe "Gazprom" will play a key role as the company with huge experience of shelf development. We are extremely interested in participating in the development of these resources.
- Who could possibly be the consumer and purchaser of the resources extracted from the Caspian Sea?
- The prime task of all companies, enterprises that today operate in the oil and gas sphere is to boost output of energy carriers and their supplies to the world markets to balance the supply and demand in these world markets. The second issue is of technical nature. The point is about routes along which oil and gas resources will be shipped. Honestly, we are extremely interested and will do our best to ensure that such routes run through the territory of Russia, above all, for the reasons of cost efficiency. However, if other countries, our neighbors, join these projects we will be more than happy.
- Are there any other projects of joint economic cooperation or is everything limited to oil and gas?
- The Russian government is now preparing for the second session of the intergovernmental commission in Ashgabat. Dozens of issues of mutual interest are on the agenda. They cover not only oil and gas sphere but also mechanical engineering, agriculture and other sectors of economy. I think after sorting these issues out at the expert level and achieving agreements at the governmental level they will be offered to the Russian and Turkmen enterprises for realization. We pin great hopes on it.
- Do Russian companies have competitors in the field of economic cooperation with Turkmenistan?
- Absolutely. You have asked a serious question. I know that representatives of western countries - the USA, Canada, Germany and other industrialized countries watch closely the economic developments in Turkmenistan. They demonstrate interest in participating in projects there. They are very active and quick wherever possible. For us, it is worrisome signals as we will have to compete and struggle for specific contracts, for a place in Turkmenistan's economy with big and worthy companies. I think we are even late in some areas of this competition because of our inattention to economic projects the Turkmen government offers. I believe if we do not move fast to this market it will be hard for us to compete with foreign companies there. At the same time, I know that the leadership of the republic creates all conditions for fair and equal competition for representatives of all countries.
- Do you think peculiarities of the political system of Turkmenistan will not affect in any way economic cooperation with Russia?
- Turkmenistan is an independent state with its own vision of state building. We should not interfere with those processes taking place inside this country. Besides, we see that the economy of Turkmenistan is progressing. Inflation is low, the country's monetary policy develops very dynamically and progressively. Turkmenistan reports high rates of housing construction and advanced infrastructure not only in the capital, Ashgabat, but also in other cities of Turkmenistan. We are happy about it. We deal with a creditable partner. We respect Turkmenistan's achievements and examine its experience that might be useful for us. I am confident the constructive political dialogue between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkmen president Saparmurat Niyazov will be a good basis for the further development and expansion of economic cooperation between our friendly countries.
"NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA", 17.02.2005.