Turkmenistan: The Swan, the Crab, and the Pike and the Trans-Caspian Pipeline
An interesting side drama at the annual Oil and Gas Turkmenistan conference was Turkmenistan's very cautious step toward rapprochement with Russia, following months of strained relations, mutual recriminations, escalating militarization in the Caspian, and outright conflict over the Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP).
On November 16 at the conference, Bayramgeldy Nedirov, Turkmenistan's minister of oil and gas industry and mineral resources, met with Yury Sentyurin, Russia's deputy ministery of energy, the opposition website gundogar.org reported, citing the Russian ministry's website.
Nedirov said that Turkmenistan was interested in "the active involvement of Russian companies in investment and also innovation projects in Turkmenistan." He then touched upon the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-Indian (TAPI) pipeline, noting that by the end of this year, the project would be ready for "implementation in the framework of a consortium with the participation of interested companies." That was quite a bit warmer than the frosty response last year, when Russian Deputy Vice Premier Igor Sechin seemed to jump the gun assuming Gazprom would be involved, and then got slammed by irate Turkmen Foreign Ministry officials who felt the Russians were being too presumptuous.
Nedirov then passed Sentyurin -- who wasn't at his level -- off to his deputy, Jepbarberdy Atayev to discuss "the need to organize information exchange about projects." Everything seemed as well as could be expected, but then the next day, Aleksandr Medvedev, deputy chair of Russia's state monopoly Gazprom, publicly expressed doubts about the size of South Yolotan's reserves, which which Turkmenistan is now claiming would make it the country with the second largest gas reserves in the world, after Iran and Qatar, instead of the fourth or fifth.
According to the Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Medvedev fretted about Turkmenistan's plans to feed Nabucco, which actually Ashgabat hadn't mentioned at OGT, which of course is intended to circumvent Russia. In an interview then with the television channel Rossiya 24, Medvedev was dripping with sarcasm: "I think there's no basis for such statements about such a deposit with such reserves of that size. That means this is being said with some sort of purpose. It's understood with what aim, and it's easy to guess."
For those watching at home, it might not have been so easy to guess, but apparently what he meant was implied in his next statement -- since Russian engineers basically built the Turkmen gas industry in the Soviet era and surveyed all the deposits back then, they knew the extent of the reserves, and they think the Turkmens are telling a whopper just to get more foreign investment. Medvedev added that no real audit had been made, nor had the new surveys been published. He reiterated a point that had irritated Turkmenistan last month, saying their gas extraction would be difficult and require greater investment.
Naturally, Medvedev's knock on Turkmenistan's gas industry once again evoked another denunciation of the Russia media and Gazprom by the Turkmen Foreign Ministry calling Medvedev "extremely impolite and disrespectful" as well as "non-objective" given the revised estimates by British consulting firm Gaffney, Cline & Associates. There was more in that vein -- Medvedev had made "an awkward attempt to distort the real situation," and so on. The question is whether Turkmenistan will compartmentalize the attacks by Gazprom on its gas reputation, and still try to do business with Russian ministers and other Russian companies it likes (such as Itera), or whether that will be impossible, given Gazprom's monopolist status.
Another meeting that took place in Moscow on November 20 between Catherine Ashton, the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, indicates that the EU is trying to smooth its end of relations with the Kremlin. Nice words were said about "mutually profitable energy cooperation," and Lavrov referenced the Nordstream pipeline, which was launched November 8, as an example of cooperation between Russia and the EU. He then gingerly referenced the Trans Caspian Pipeline and "a number of problems existing in energy cooperation", RIA Novosti reported.
Ashton said she was confident Russia and the EU would continue to cooperate and regarding the TCP, said that environmental protection must be secured for this project. RIA Novosti called the TCP "one of the weakest links in the Nabucco project" due to the lack of resolution of the status of the Caspian Sea -- it seems Russia is the only one talking about Nabucco anymore. Despite EU speeches at OGT to the contrary, the US and UK are characterized these days as having given up on Nabucco and are focusing on TCP and other shorter pipelines. Of course, Russia wants to resolve all Caspian disputes multilaterally with all the littoral states; Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan want to resolve their border demarcation problems bilaterally, and the EU wants to deal just with Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan together, separately from Russia.
Whether one looks at Russia, the EU and Turkmenistan or the EU, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, the Russian fairy tale by Ivan Krylov comes to mind titled “The Swan, The Crab, and the Pike," about creatures pulling in different directions. It will be interesting to see if the load gets across the river.