Turkmenistan Edges Toward Nabucco, Caspian Resolution with Azerbaijan
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has made his most forthright statement yet regarding the prospects for his country's participation in the Western-backed Nabucco pipeline, designed to skirt Russia in delivering Turkmen gas to foreign markets.
After a speech September 17 at a summit of heads of states of Turkic countries in Istanbul, President Berdymukhamedov took questions from reporters. In response to a query about the prospects of Turkmenistan delivering gas to Europe, the Turkmen leader was reported by both domestic and foreign news services as saying:
"Turkmenistan does not doubt the real prospect of implementing various projects to export gas in any direction, including to Europe through Nabucco,"
Yet his statements have been reported somewhat differently at home and abroad, and analysts have speculated whether the pro-Nabucco remarks were just a bargaining ploy both to get Russia to pay more for Turkmen gas and to raise Ashgabat's stature in the region. They may have also been designed as a sweetener in anticipation of the Turkmen president's meeting with Chevron's CEO Jay Pryor.
We are currently constructing the East-West pipeline. The pipeline will be laid along the coast of the Caspian Sea. There is also Nabucco, which is associated with the project. We are building an East-West pipeline that will reach the Caspian. Nabucco is about this.
In the official account of his speech in articles in both English and Russian on the government's website, produced by the State News Agency of Turkmenistan (TDH), the president does not appear to mention the East-West pipeline at all, nor does he explicitly link Nabucco to any internal Turkmenistan project. A Russian state media account of his speech also doesn't mention East-West. Instead, he is shown giving a nod to Nabucco, then answering the reporter's question more generally by indicating that Turkmenistan has enough supplies for all potential customers, based on the 2008 audit by Gaffney, Cline & Associations of the South Yoloten and Yashlar fields, where reserves were estimated at 18 trillion cubic meters.
In the official TDH account, the Turkmen leader boasted of the signing of contracts with China, South Korea, and the United Emirates, which have begun to tap South Yoloten. Contracts valued at U.S. $10 billion have been signed to construct both above-ground and underground facilities for extracting and refining gas, the president said. There are great prospects also for the Garabil-Gurrukbi, Central Karakum and other rich deposits, and foreign companies have demonstrated interest in developing hydrocarbons on the Caspian Sea shelf, he added. Yet no mention was made there of the East-West pipeline, which the Turkmens are building themselves.
On the government website, the president is shown continuing to boast of Turkmenistan's energy potential as "an estimated 45.44 billion tons of oil equivalent, and gas reserves are estimated at 24.6 trillion cubic meters." Thus, by 2030, Turkmenistan expects to pump 230 billion cubic meters of gas a year, some of which will be refined inside Turkmenistan and a significant portion of which will be exported -- an estimated 180 billion cubic meters per year, the Turkmen leader claimed.
Foreign media also portrayed Turkmenistan as moving closer to a resolution of a long-standing dispute with Azerbaijan regarding demarcation of their border in the Caspian Sea bed. Here, President Berdymukhamedov actually didn't add anything new, commenting with his usual stock phrases on the issue that " negotiations on the international legal status of the Caspian are underway at various official levels and are in constant development" and that "all issues concerning the Caspian must be resolved by taking into account the interests of all sides and the universally recognized norms of international law.
To be sure, having Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev chime in with the same reassurances as he stood next to President Berdymukhamedov at the press conference appeared to indicate further progress. "There are no unsolvable problems between our countries. The leadership of both countries possess both the political will and the desire to resolve them on mutually acceptable terms," TDH quoted President Berdymukhamedov as saying.
In reply to a question about the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India, and the conflict in Afghanistan, President Berdymukhamedov said the project would play an "inestimable role" in strengthening peace and stability in the region and particularly in Afghanistan. There are "economic dividends" in sight for each country participation, but the economic side of TAPI is secondary, the president admitted. Rather, he sees TAPI as providing a basis for Afghanistan to undertake construction of a number of high-technology facilities that will provide jobs and serve as a basis for political stability.
Predicably, the pro-Kremlin Voice of Russia blasted President Berdymukhamedov's remarks in Istanbul, summoning analysts to scoff at the unrealistic and expensive pipeline projects, and calling the statement on Nabucco "little more than a planned PR stunt" that was "music for the U.S. and the EU's ears". Andrei Grozin of the CIS Institute noted that Turkmenistan was "unlikely to meet the ever-increasing appetites of its partners" for gas, given all its many commitments from China to Pakistan. "Ashgabat touting the TAPI project is nothing but a politically tainted move, which aims to step up Turkmenistan's regional clout," observers were quoted as saying by Voice of Russia.