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20.06.02á17:22
Putin and Niyazov spoke about gas
Turkmenistan is searching for sponsors, Russian provides pipes and guarantees

Hamid Karzai's election as the head of post-Taliban Afghanistan gave a new stimulus to the campaign aimed for rehabilitation of well known early 90th project on TransAfghan gas main from Turkmenistan to Southern Asia. The heads of three states - Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan - has already signed agreement in support of construction of the main. The current stage of the project is estimated as pre-feasibility study. In case if this project is implemented Turkmenistan can have a way to the world market, bypassing Russia and export from 15 billion to 30 billion cubic meters of gas annually. A 1460 km pipe will be laid from Davletabad South-Eastern region of Turkmenistan via Afghan Kandagar to the Pakistani Multan city. From Pakistan another part of pipe at 650 km can be laid to India.

First estimations of the project are rather realistic - USD 2 billion to Pakistan and USD 600 million for the Indian part of the pipe. Although this calculations are a little bit "outdated" and were made by Unocal US company, then leading the Centgas consortium (Central Asian pipeline), now this figures are higher. Till now the problem was and is in finding sponsors for the construction. Yet there is no a single sponsor who would agree to risk, spend and built and the main efforts are directed to propaganda.

During the last week phone talk with the Russian president Vladimir Putin the Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov made another attempt while inviting the Russian partners to the project. No talks on the plans of cooperation with Russia were carried out. Turkmenbashi has been facing another problem: to explain Putin that the Southern route of Turkmen gas export (30 billion cubic meters) does not infringe upon Moscow's interests and that Ashkhabad has enough resources to transport it both to Russia and to Europe via the Russian territory (50 billion cubic meters).

The Turkmen mass media reports that Vladimir Putin did not express his interest yet to TransAfghan alliance. Maybe because of Turkmenbashi, who has forgotten to inform Putin about one nuance -Islamabad's agreement was signed on four languages - Turkmen, Dari (for Afghans), English (for Pakistanis) and Russian (who knows for whom). However, the Russian reaction on the Turkmen proposal is explained by lack of main "locomotive". For Turkmens it could be a sponsor group of World Bank's President James Woolfensohn and heads of Asia Bank.

However, any of these structures is able to undertake political risks connected with laying of the pipeline even after uncontrollable Talibs left the political arena of Afghanistan. If they come back to power Turkmenistan would have to change its big plans. Unocal is not going to come back to this project for it has already left Centgas and invested its capital in projects in other parts of the world, in South-Eastern Asia in particular.

EurasiaNet quoted the director of the bureau for CIS, Russia and Near East attached to the Energy ministry of the US Leonard Cobern: "Presently there are no new interesting projects in this region. ExxonMobile is leaving Turkmenistan, they found nothing and understood that they could not find anything in this country, ChevronTexaco is not operating in Turkmenistan for it started serious projects in Azerbaijan and Pakistan."

As for Vladimir Putin, who has his own "gas agenda of the day", is well informed about the latest Turkmen-Afghan-Pakistani initiatives. It is known as "gas alliance" of Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. This March the presidents of these four states signed at the CIS Summit in Kazakhstan agreement about the intentions of these states to form an alliance, which would allow the states processing and transporting gas within CIS to work out coordinated approach and come forward jointly at the world market. Two months after the summit Turkmenistan refused from participation in this alliance. "We will pave our way to the world market" the leader of Turkmenistan said then.

As for today, Russia is ready to purchase at least 2 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas, 34 billion cubic meters of gas out of 45- 46 billion which is presently pumped by the pipelines are contracted by Ukraine and 10 billion - by Itera. These figures have nothing common with the acting real plans for increasing Turkmen gas production up to 80 billion cubic meters annually.

Vremia Novostey Daily, June 17. 2002

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By Arkadiy DUBNOV

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