Europe’s hopes for Caspian gas supplies deal

High hopes for a big announcement of a new natural gas supplier to Europe. The presidents of the three countries, Turkmenistan, Turkey, and Azerbaijan, agreed on possible ways of delivering Caspian gas. 

Turkish president aims at setting Caspian gas transfer to Europe

Before the December 13-14 meeting in Turkmenistan, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan commented on the transportation of Turkmen gas to Europe via Turkey and said: “This summit is mainly aimed at taking this step on natural gas.”

But Turkmenistan has rejected this idea.

Erdogan pointed out at the summit that “Caspian gas to Europe,” meaning Azerbaijani gas, was already being shipped through Turkey, and said, “I hope that Turkmen gas will soon begin to flow to Turkey through the Caspian Sea.”

Interconnector gas pipeline project

Erdogan supported the Interconnector Gas Pipeline Project, a proposed gas pipeline connecting Turkmenistan’s gas fields with Azerbaijan’s existing Caspian Sea pipeline network that leads to Azerbaijan.

Construction of the project will take up to 24 months at a relatively low estimated cost of $500-800 million and will supply 10 to 12 billion cubic meters of gas annually.

This is only 40% of the 30 billion cubic meters of gas envisaged in the proposed but has yet to launch the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline estimated to cost $5 billion or more. 

Still, the more modest channel would have political significance by opening the first gas export route from the eastern Caspian (Kazakhstan also has gas reserves in the Caspian Sea) to Europe.

Transportation of gas to Europe bypassing Russia

The idea is to transport gas by ship to Azerbaijan and then inject it into the Southern Gas Corridor pipeline chain that connects Azerbaijan to Europe via Georgia and Turkey.

It still needs to be made clear when supplies would start flowing under the proposed plan or how feasible the idea is in the short term from a technical point of view.

While Azerbaijan is already pumping gas to Europe, Turkmenistan’s vast resources still need to be explored. The country has yet to be able to send them to Europe due to the lack of agreements on transportation through the Caspian Sea by pipeline, the Bloomberg report.

Did the summit settle an agreement on Turkmen gas?

But at the end of the summit, the three presidents signed five agreements, none of which contained any immediate plans to transport Turkmen gas across the Caspian Sea to Europe.

The Turkish leader said he looked forward to Turkmenistan completing the “full membership process” in the Organization of Turkic States (OTS).

The OTS is the latest incarnation of an organization based on Turkic heritage and language that has existed for nearly three decades.

Organization of Turkic States 

Over the past few years, Erdogan has pushed for the Turkic group to become a political and economic bloc, and in November 2021, the organization adopted a new name.

The current members of the OTS are Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, while Turkmenistan and Hungary are observer states.

There was no mention of why Turkmenistan did not become a full member.

Erdogan encouraged Turkmenistan at the Avaza summit to become a full member of the OTS. However, Erdogan’s comments about canceling the recently concluded visa agreement between Turkey and Turkmenistan indicate that Erdogan is ready to retaliate if Turkmenistan continues to be unpredictable.

Turkmen-Russian ties stay close 

Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhamedov went to Moscow on June 10 for his first state visit since his election. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin told the Turkmen president that “Russia and Turkmenistan attach great importance to joint work with the Caspian states in the field of security, economic partnership, preservation of natural resources, and support for environmental well-being. “

Russia and Iran have opposed the construction of a gas pipeline to transport Turkmen gas to Azerbaijan for onward transit to Europe via Georgia and Turkey since the proposal was first made in the mid-1990s.

Russia influences Turkmenistan

Publicly, Russia and Iran oppose the plan because of environmental concerns. Still, some believe both countries are more interested in protecting their potential shares of the lucrative European gas market from a competitor. 

Turkmenistan’s gas reserves are the fifth largest in the world.

Putin’s remarks about “preserving natural resources and ensuring environmental safety” in the Caspian Sea indicate that Moscow’s position on the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline has not changed.

The President of Turkmenistan did not attend the OTS summit on November 11 in Samarkand. Instead, his father, former President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, went.

On November 1-3, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov was in Russia as chairman of the Halk Maslahaty (People’s Council). He met with his Russian counterpart Valentina Matvienko and with Putin.

Turkmenistan’s decision next week not to become a full member of the OTS may result from Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s trip to Russia.

Russia has a lot of influence in Turkmenistan, and it is evident that the Turkmen government does not want to do anything that would anger the Kremlin.

But Erdogan seems to be losing patience with Turkmenistan’s rejection of agreements he has already presented. Soon Turkmenistan will have to decide whether it is with Moscow or Ankara.

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