China is challenging Russia as Turkmenistan’s main buyer of natural gas. Ashgabat’s shift could put the Kremlin in a precarious position.
During a state visit to China on November 23, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov said he signed an agreement with Chinese President Hu Jintao to beef up an existing gas accord by exporting 65 billion cubic meters (bcm) a year to China “in the near future.” This new projected volume would total over half of the 2010 gas consumption of China, the largest energy consumer in the world and a market that Russia, the world’s most resource-rich nation, has long been looking to penetrate.
Alexei Miller, head of the Kremlin-controlled conglomerate Gazprom, was quoted by local media as saying that Turkmenistan's intentions "will not affect our plans." But analysts did not seem reassured by Miller’s words.
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Tom Balmforth is a freelance journalist who writes about Russia and the Caucasus.