Ashkhabad is sure that gas will flow regardless postponed meeting of Turkmen, Afghani and Pakistani leaders
More than 100 foreign journalists arrived to Turkmenistan to cover the celebrations of independence of Turkmenistan. A sensational event was expected. In Ashkhabad leaders of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan should have sign agreement on creation of international consortium for construction of TransAfghan gas main, linking three states.
The Oil and Gas Ministry of Turkmenistan informed journalists that a 1464 kilometers pipeline will be laid from Dovletabad field to South Turkmenistan to Pakistani Multan city. The pipe will be laid within 24 months, in 2005 construction of gas main should be completed. Later the pipe will be constructed to New-Delhi in India and to Gvadar port, where gas will be liquefied and sent to partners on tankers. The project could be launched if a tripartite document were signed in Ashkhabad. However, the meeting was not held because the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf asked to postpone signing of the document for a later period. In his message addressed to the Turkmen president he explained that a new government was being formed in Islamabad and that he could not leave the country is such crucial moment.
The Oil and Gas Minister of Turkmenistan Kurbannazar Nazarov was asked by journalists whether the project will be postponed for undetermined period of time for it was delayed because of political but not economic reasons. While answering this question the Minister expressed his categorical discord with this statement saying that the project was initiated from the economic expediency and commercial profits for all participating states. It is foreseen that Afghanistan and Pakistan could not only receive Turkmen gas but also could pump gas developed on their territory to the pipe if necessary.
The Asian Bank for Development agreed to allocate a USD 1.5 million grant for working out feasibility study. By November 30 the data on sales market are to be presented for further researches. According to preliminary data - Pakistan, India, South-Eastern Asia and Asia Pacific are the perspective sales markets. The agreement which is initialed gives reasons for signing preliminary contracts about purchasing Turkmen gas, that makes the project more attractive for potential investors. The Asian Bank supported the idea by Turkmenistan to create a consortium parallel with working out feasibility study, but not after it is ready. It saves time and allows the consortium take part in one of the initial stages of elaboration of the project. The pumping capacity of the new pipe is up to 30 billion cubic meters of gas. Turkmenistan is ready to supply this amount of gas. According to the conclusion of experts of largest companies resources of the state are estimated at 240 billion cubic meters annually.
However, it is hard to sell even 60 billion cubic meters of gas to foreign countries because Ashkhabad completely depends on the Russian pipe. Therefore Ashkhabad now is eager to build another pipe passing Russia. Russia and Turkmenistan could not agree on the prices of gas delivery. Russia was refusing to pay more than USD 36 for 1000 cubic meters of gas, while Turkmenistan was not going to sell its gas for less than USD 40. Ukraine then was ready Turkmen gas for USD 40, while Iran for USD 60-65. However, there are some other reasons that stagnate construction of the pipe. Even after attacks of US the situation in Afghanistan is far of being stable. There are doubts that Pakistan, which now consumes 20 billion cubic meters of gas can "digest" the suggested additional volumes of gas. And here is a question comes - Who will give USD 2 billion for construction?
The US is ready to back this pipe. For US prefer seeing Turkmen gas entering its strategic partner Pakistan than the Iranian gas. The US also interested in Afghanistan. According to the US Ambassador to Ashkhabad Lora Kennedy implementation of this project could be crucial for stability and well-being of Afghanistan. Moreover, the TransAfghan project will bring US not only political but economic dividends as well - the more is amount of pipelines in the world, the less are the prices of oil and gas.
Turkmenistan keeps inviting Russian Gasprom to participate in the project, proposing him 15% of shares. The company says diplomatically: "The proposal is under consideration." The representative of Gasprom did not came to Ashkhabad, while Itera sent a delegation headed by the president of the company Igor Makarov, who shares rather good relations with the Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. The Chairman of Itera board of directors Gennadiy Skidanov told that a contract on purchasing 10 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas for USD 44 for 1000 cubic meters was signed. Semenenko informed that Itera will be an operator for Ukrainian deal, assuring transportation via Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia of 36 billion cubic meters of gas in 2003.
In fact, Turkmenistan is the best Russian partner among post Soviet republics. It never had debts to Turkmenistan, never get financial subsidies. Turkmenistan was the first among CIS which signed with Russian agreement on double citizenship and did not let the US Army to be stationed on its territory. And it would not let any for it is the only state, which is announced by the UN as a neutral state. Turkmenistan is eager to increase the volumes of gas for export. The Turkmen leader assured Vladimir Putin that along with delivery of 30 billion cubic meters of gas to Pakistan and India, Ashkhabad is ready to sell 50 billion cubic meters to Russia and for the further transportation to West.
I don't think that Russia could loose its influence in the region because of TransAfghan project. Vice versa, it meets Russia's strategic interests.