The head of Turkmenistan’s state gas company Turkmengaz has been fired as the government remains mired in an debt dispute with Iran over historic gas deliveries.
At a government meeting on January 13, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov announced that Ashirguly Begliyev was being moved to another unspecified post to be replaced by his deputy, Maksat Babayev.
Addressing deputy prime minister Yashigeldy Kakayev, who oversees the country’s energy sector, Berdymukhamedov complained that his “managers do not meet current requirement, and that is why I have taken this decision.”
In an organisational rearrangement whose significance it is still too early to fully divine, Berdymukhamedov said the head of Turkmengaz will have a ministerial rank. Accordingly, Babayev will now be designated a state minister and chairman of Turkmengaz state concern.
Begliyev had occupied his post since January 2015 — a relatively short tenure, but not one whose brevity is out of the norm for Turkmenistan.
As so many other Turkmen officials, the new Turkmengaz chief, Babayev, has almost nothing by way of a public profile. He was named deputy head of the company in April 2012. Within a year he had already earned a reprimand from Berdymukhamedov, officially for “allowing shortcomings during construction of a gas compressor station at the Malai field.” But after that, he seems to have managed to evade complete attention, other than from his intermittent appearances at the regular energy conferences in Turkmenistan.
Babayev takes over the job at an acutely difficult time. Turkmenistan has of this year whittled down its roster of gas customers to just one — China. Turkmenistan has stopped — or largely stopped, at least — delivering gas to Iran as the two countries continue to bicker over an outstanding debt that Ashgabat says is owed by Tehran.
China’s ambassador to Turkmenistan said in an interview published January 6 on the state website Golden Era that China has since completing its pipeline to Turkmenistan in 2009 imported 160 billion cubic meters of gas through the route.
The overall figures are impressive, but recent trends are highly dispiriting for Ashgabat.
As energy news website neftegaz.ru reported in December, Chinese customs officials stated that import volumes of Turkmenistan increased by 11.2 percent in the first 10 months of 2016, compared to the same period the year before, and yet Turkmenistan’s revenue from those sales dropped by a startling 29 percent to $4.68 billion, in line with a global fall for energy commodities. The average price of the gas sold to China in that period was 255 dollar per ton, down by $145 on the previous year.
The bitter irony is that even though Turkmenistan accounts for a huge chunk of China’s gas needs — just under half imports come from Turkmenistan by one estimate — Ashgabat is in little position to bargain as it has no other immediate prospects for export. Perhaps the only consolation is that China’s appetite for gas is set to increase further, which will partially offset the damp prices.