Kiev and Ashgabat agree to develop cooperation in the gas field and invite Moscow to keep up with them
Yesterday, the Ukrainian president wrapped up a two-day official visit to Turkmenistan. As the first vice-premier of the Ukrainian government, Anatoly Kinah, told journalists in Ashgabat, the main topic of talks was Turkmen gas supplies not only to Ukraine but also to European countries. According to Kinah, Turkmenistan is "a very important factor in Ukraine's energy security and cooperation with Ukraine will provide Turkmenistan with the possibility of forming about 30% of its own state budget."
At present, Ukraine consumes some 79 billion cubic meter (bcm) of gas a year, with 20 bcm coming as Ukraine's own production, 23 bcm as Russia's payment for transit of gas and 36 bcm as imports from Turkmenistan.
One of the hottest issues at the talks was the price of Turkmen gas for Ukraine. As is known, Turkmenistan decided to increase a gas price from US $ 44 to 60 per 1000 cubic meters at the end of last year and suspended gas supplies to Russia and Ukraine. The only concession that Ukraine managed to secure was the reduction of price by US $ 2. Russian Gazprom regarded Ashgabat's initiative as blackmail and refused to negotiate at all. As a result, Turkmenistan had to resume gas supplies to Russia at the old price.
The attempt of Ukraine to stick to the old price was unsuccessful. At the talks in Ashgabat the sides agreed that the price of Turkmen gas for Ukraine would remain at US $ 58 per 1000 cubic meters until the end of this year.
In these circumstances, Ukraine will obviously focus on the development of its gas transportation system, for which Ukraine is planning to direct the major part of the Deutsche Bank credit totaling US $ 2 billion, according to Nezavisimaya gazeta sources in the Ukrainian government. A gas transportation issue was further developed in Ashgabat. Presidents Yushchenko and Niyazov decided to initiate negotiations with Kazakhstan and Russia on the issue of setting up a consortium for transportation of gas along the Caspian coast. According to Ukrainian and Turkmen specialists, the Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan (Aleksandrov Gay)-Novopskov (on the Ukrainian-Russian border) main is seen as the optimal gas transportation route. Such scheme would make it possible to send some 60-70 bcm of gas annually both to Ukraine and for export to European countries.
Meanwhile, both Kiev and Ashgabat fully realize that prospects of setting up a gas consortium entirely depend on the good will of Russia. Nevertheless, Yushchenko has Napoleonic plans. At the final press conference yesterday he noted that plans on setting up the gas transportation consortium could be of interest not only for Ukraine, Turkmenistan and Russia but also for the European countries. "Why can't it be not just an issue of Ukrainian-Russian-Turkmen ties but also of Europe, in particular Germany, Italy and France?" Yushchenko said. According to him, the political factor is the main barrier in realization of such projects which should be lifted. "In any case, Europe will have enough gas with or without us," the Ukrainian leader noted.
In turn, president Niyazov said a new format of the consortium on transportation of gas along the Caspian coast was the "most advantageous project." According to Niyazov, he and Yushchenko agreed "to talk to Russia to speed up construction of a gas pipeline." To scatter any doubts concerning Turkmen hydrocarbon resources potential he said Turkmenistan could supply 60 bcm of gas to Russia and also a similar amount to Ukraine annually.
According to experts, the aspiration of Ukraine and Turkmenistan to ensure Russia's participation in the new gas consortium could be partly viewed as an attempt to iron out the "differences" that had arisen between Kiev and Moscow after Ukraine's declaration of a possibility to establish the Ukrainian-Polish-German trading house to sell Caspian gas. There was no mentioning of Russia's participation in this project. Realization of such projects, however, is impossible without Russian involvement, according to Nezavisimaya gazeta sources in Gazprom. In April 2003, a Russian-Turkmen agreement on cooperation in the gas sector until 2028 was signed. Gazprom and Turkmenneftgas State Corporation signed a contract within the framework of this agreement. According to this contract, Turkmen gas supplies will reach 70-80 bcm by 2028.
Gazprom also noted that today Ukraine receives Central Asian gas through RosUkrEnergo company which is carrying out purchases of Turkmen gas for Ukraine, operating the transit of gas and acts as investor in development of gas transportation infrastructure. Subsidiaries of the Gazprombank and Raiffeisenbank became shareholders (50x50) of RosUkrEnergo. Besides, Ukraine uses the single export channel of Gazprom to supply its gas export quota to the far abroad countries.
Victor Yushchenko's first visit was also marked by other important agreements. In fact, a considerable package of documents covering defence and humanitarian fields was signed in Ashgabat yesterday. On the whole, Victor Yushchenko and Saparmurat Niyazov demonstrated that they were rather pleased with each other during two days of talks. As the first vice-premier of the Ukrainian government, Anatoly Kinah, said, "there was reached a high level of constructive personal relations." The leader of Ukrainian "orange revolution" refrained from rebuking his Turkmen colleague for taking liberties with democracy, added that Turkmenbashi stated blankly: "You don't believe any trash in press. There are no problems with human rights in Turkmenistan."
Evgeniya SIZONTOVA, Peter OREHIN, Anatoliy GORDIYENKO
"NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA", 24.03.2005