Baku, Azerbaijan, July 16
By Aygun Badalova - Trend:
Turkmenistan must find a way to sell its gas to Europe in order not to be left with a single customer, an expert on Central Asia, Bruce Pannier told Trend.
Pannier stressed that Turkmenistan does have long-term contracts with China to sell at least 65 billion cubic meters (bcm) annually and possibly up to 80 bcm.
"But the modest contracts Turkmenistan has with Iran are likely to vanish completely in just a few years as Iran develops its own internal gas pipeline network. Gas exports to Russia have fallen from some 42 bcm in 2008 to 4 bcm now and it could fall even further," he said.
Expert is also skeptical about TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline) project, which, he believes might never be built.
"So for Turkmenistan it is not just a question of it would nice to sell gas to Europe, it is more a matter of Turkmenistan must find a way to sell gas to Europe or the country will be left with only China as a customer," Pannier said adding that in such a situation the advantage in negotiating price will be with Beijing.
Pannier believes that given the current geopolitical situation the only viable export route for Turkmen gas to Europe is the Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP), which is opposed by Russia.
"Turkmenistan has been working with Azerbaijan, Turkey, and the EU to push the Trans-Caspian project forward despite the fact Russia will certainly object," Pannier said.
Pannier also believes that Ashgabat might be trying to use its disputable gas issues with Russia in the hope to strengthen Turkmenistan's position when the times comes to have big arguments about the TCP.
"The argument would be something like "Russia hasn't honored it contracts with Turkmenistan, has greatly reduced the amount of gas it buys from Turkmenistan and is not even paying the bills for all the Turkmen gas it receives, and now wants to deprive Turkmenistan of selling gas to another market," Pannier said.
The Trans-Caspian pipeline can be implemented as part of the Southern Gas Corridor large project, which envisages gas supplies from the Caspian region, in particular, the Azerbaijani gas to Europe.
The negotiations on the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline among the EU, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan began in September 2011. Ashgabat believes that the consent of the sides, covered by the project, that is, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, is sufficient for laying the pipe through the bottom of the Caspian Sea, the legal status of which has not been defined.
Azerbaijan expressed its readiness to deliver its territory, transit opportunities and infrastructure for implementing the project.
In the view of considering organizational, legal, commercial, technical and other issues, related to natural gas supply from Turkmenistan to Europe, EU, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan in May agreed to establish a Working Group at the level of Deputy Ministers (or equivalent) in charge of energy sphere of the mentioned parties.
The first meeting of the Working Group has been held on July 13.
Earlier, European Commission Vice President for Energy Union Maros Sefcovic said that the EU expects to receive Turkmen gas in 2019.
Aygun Badalova is Trend Agency's staff journalist, follow her on Twitter:@AygunBadalova