Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov Visits Georgia
Tbilisi had an unusual visitor on July 2. But one whose presence could have far-reaching consequences for the energy map of both the South Caucasus and Europe.
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s two-day state visit to Georgia, his first, involves the usual meetings with the usual assortment of senior Georgian officials and the usual signing of various, vaguely described agreements.
The two countries have not divulged the details.
The Turkmen government is excited about how the use of “transportation-transit infrastructure between the Caspian and Black Sea regions will provide for the supply of broad inter-regional integration with the states of Europe, and the Near and Far East.”
Georgian Foreign Minister Tamar Beruchashvili, for her part, expressed a hope that the visit would bring “interesting results” for “deepening” the two countries’ relations as well as for “the execution of regional projects.”
Of course, bottom line, that means one thing – energy.
A few months ago, European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic told Reuters that Turkmen gas would reach European markets by 2019.
To get there, it would have to pass through the existing South Caucasus pipeline, which runs from Azerbaijan to Georgia, and on to Turkey, where it could tap into the Europe-bound Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline, now under construction.
Turkmenistan, which already has deemed Russia's Gazprom "an unstable partner" for a Central Asian gas power, has started to put out some feelers for collaboration with other post-Soviet players. In December 2014, it hosted Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili (who made time for some horseback riding.) In April, it had Moldovan President Nicolae Timofti over. And, of course, Berdymukhamedov himself paid a visit to that mega-networking event, Azerbaijan’s recently concluded European Games.
Granted, obstacles exist for any Turkmen-Azerbaijani-Georgian-Turkish energy deal -- chief among them, the question of getting Turkmen gas to Azerbaijan, a longtime regional rival, when no treaty defines either country’s claim to portions of the Caspian Sea.
But the crisis in Ukraine appears to have prompted both Baku and Ashgabat to look into a future as export partners, EurasiaNet.org reported last year.
Perhaps for that reason, Azerbaijan appears to be buzzing along with the display of Turkmen-Georgian friendship. The government-aligned Trend.az news agency cited a Turkmen official statement that the get-together is intended for the “optimal realization” of “the current potential” for cooperation “on an equal, mutually beneficial and long-term basis.”
A deal to ship Turkmen gas to Turkey via Azerbaijan “would likely have the Azerbaijani government seeking to ensure that more of Azerbaijan’s own gas is sent onward from Turkey to Europe as part of that deal,” Trend reported IHS energy consultant Andrew Neff as saying earlier.
“Azerbaijan will thus become more important to Europe as a gas supplier,” he predicted.
And Russia, so the thinking appears to go, comparatively less.
As yet, no word from the Kremlin or any of the usual media mouthpieces about the Turkmen leader’s trip to Tbilisi. But, rest assured, they’re watching.