Dangerous games around Trans-Caspian pipeline

Dangerous games around Trans-Caspian pipeline

Baku, Azerbaijan, Nov.20

By Aynur Gasimova - Trend:

Following the real steps taken by Azerbaijan for creating the Southern Gas Corridor, which will change Europe's energy map, all the major players of the Caspian Sea region with large hydrocarbon reserves, started showing activity.

During his visit to Baku in November, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Azerbaijan can link Iran with Europe.

Moreover, during the visit to Turkmenistan in early November, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that TANAP gas pipeline, which is a part of the Southern Gas Corridor and is implemented by Turkey and Azerbaijan, could also supply Turkmen gas to Europe.

The energy cooperation issues were also discussed during the meeting between Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and President of Azerbaijani State Oil Company (SOCAR) Rovnag Abdullayev.

Naturally, Turkmenistan, which has the fourth largest 'blue fuel' reserve in the world, is one of the most prospective suppliers of gas to European market. And the most perspective route is the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline which will allow to transport Turkmenistan's huge resources to Southern Gas Corridor that takes its beginning from Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan, for its part, has repeatedly expressed readiness to offer its infrastructure, diversified system of oil and gas pipelines and other opportunities for the implementation of the gas transit projects.

Along with that, there are no technical problems for construction of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline. Speaking of construction, Azerbaijan has great experience in this area. About 5,000 kilometers of underwater gas pipelines have been constructed in the Caspian Sea's Azerbaijani sector.

The most modern and safe pipelines with a total length of about 400 kilometers were constructed for delivery of gas from the Shah Deniz field. So, the construction of about 300-kilometers long gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan isn't difficult.

It is quite clear that such developments first of all concern Russia, as Europe is trying to find an alternative to this country in the gas supplies.

Earlier, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project falls into the category of projects affecting the interests of countries not taking part in the negotiations, that is, Russia.

He said that originally the European Commission was the project's initiator, but the issues related to the development of infrastructure in the Caspian Sea should be resolved only by its coastal countries.

In principle, the intentions of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan do not contradict what Lavrov said. The presidents of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have repeatedly stated that the decision to build the gas pipeline should be taken only by those countries, the territorial waters of which will accommodate the pipeline, that is, Baku and Ashgabat.

As for the arguments that the project poses a danger for the environment, they are entirely baseless.

First of all, full environmental assessment is conducted when planning the projects, and their implementation begins afterwards. Second, Russia has laid lots of gas pipelines across the bottom of the Black Sea, where the underwater environment is much more aggressive than in the Caspian Sea, so, accordingly, risk of pipeline damage is much higher there.

It also concerns the currently implemented projects such as the Nord Stream, which is laid on the bottom of the Baltic Sea. And, we can recall exactly those 5,000 kilometers of underwater pipelines, the vast majority of which were constructed in the Soviet era. At the time, Moscow didn't seem to worry about the ecology of the Caspian Sea and Azerbaijan's coast.

Moreover, such "precautionary" statements regarding Turkmenistan, which initiated the development of a new international legal mechanism to ensure reliable and stable supplies of energy resources to the world markets, are at least puzzling.

The interests of countries not participating in the negotiation, that is Russia, are key ones in the speech of Russian Foreign Minister. Basically, interests of Russia always dominated in the energy relations between Moscow and the Central Asian countries. In 2009, Russia suspended import of Turkmen gas due to unexpected explosion on a gas pipeline.

Technical issues have been resolved, but under the influence of the global recession, Russia has reduced purchases of Turkmen gas to 10-11 billion cubic meters since 2010, which is four times less than the volumes of 2008.

While considering the possibility of oil supply through Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan preferred to transport all volumes through Russia to the congested port of Novorossiysk, which leads to the world markets through Turkish straits. So, what's going on now? Kazakhstan is searching for new routes because of sanctions imposed on Russia.

Lavrov's mention of Europe as the Trans-Caspian project's initiator is important. Today, amid the difficult political relations with the West, Russia is ready to close the way for Central Asian energy suppliers to reach the EU markets.

However, Moscow itself is not ready to buy these supplies. Thus, there is only one direction - China. This market is ready to absorb any hydrocarbon volumes from the countries in the east of the Caspian Sea.

Amid the current wave of confrontation with the West, Moscow is ready to turn a blind eye on the increase in supplies to China. However, one should not forget that Europe and Russia have much more common in the cultural, historical, mental areas than with China. Sooner or later the relations will be established. But it will be very difficult to return the Central Asian supplies.

The recent events in the world and the region reaffirmed the vital need to diversify the economy, export routes, markets.

This is also important for all the countries of the Caspian region, having large hydrocarbon reserves. Amid this situation, the desire of the countries from the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea to enter the new markets is quite natural.

Aynur Gasimova is the head of the Trend English News Service

For any questions or feedback, follow the author on Twitter @AynuraGM

Edited by S.I.

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