The TAPI Pipeline Is Killing Nabucco

Stanislav Tarasov (Russia)

Turkmenistan is attacking Europe’s energy monopoly

Turkmen President G. Berdimuhamedov gave an interview to the national media on the eve of his departure for New York to participate in the 65th session of the UN General assembly. He talked about the need to more energetically involve Afghanistan in future transportation, communications and energy projects in the region in order to “give Afghans confidence in their future.” According to the REGNUM News Agency, Berdimuhamedov said that Turkmenistan “has successfully partnered with the major powers and the world’s main power centers on an equal basis—the United States, Russia, China and the European Union.” Speaking about regional polices, he said Turkmenistan has established “friendly, neighborly and equitable relations with its neighbors and other countries in the region.”

It appears that Ashkhabad has no intention of pitting the first group against the second. Ashkhabad is striving to find its balance among the leading power centers, but it is acting with precision and purpose towards its neighbors. A framework agreement to build the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline was signed during the sixth meeting of the technical working group on the project. TAPI undoubtedly is a large-scale interstate project, and if implemented it would give a strong impetus to economic development in those countries. The project participants agreed to hold a quadrilateral summit in December 2010 in order to arrive at a final decision on the project. However, military operations continue in Afghanistan, and the settlement process there will take several years. Meanwhile, relations between Pakistan and India have been tense for many years, and they will not ease soon. That means just one thing: Ashkhabad has decided to conceal its reluctance to exacerbate its relations with Russia and Iran over TAPI by participating in the frankly politicized Nabucco project. Moreover, it has not dropped its disagreement with Azerbaijan over the disputed Kapaz oil field (called Serdar in Turkmenistan). However, in a conversation with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev literally on the eve of the summit of Turkic speaking countries in Istanbul, Berdimuhamedov assured him that Turkmenistan can handle both Nabucco and TAPI at the same time. Just prior to that, Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yildiz said that Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan intend to “develop formulas for long-term deliveries of gas from Turkmenistan through the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan and thence to foreign markets.” For some reason, Ankara continues to believe that an agreement will be signed “in the coming months to support new regional projects like Nabucco” because “preparatory work is being done on a number of projects in parts of the Caspian Sea region where there are no territorial disputes between states.”

According to Deutsche Welle, however, agreement was reached on the TAPI framework agreement that was subsequently signed just as the European Commission was developing proposals to build a Trans-Caspian gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan without delimiting the Caspian Sea shelf. Tom Mayne, a German researcher at the international organization Global Witness, has concluded that TAPI is turning Nabucco into an idée fixe for the EU. But the intrigue lies in the fact that the European Commission for some reason put forward its old idea at a time when Europe is in fifth place behind China, Russia, Iran and Afghanistan in order of importance to Turkmenistan’s gas policy. That suggests that the EU is trailing in the region and has lost its former political and economic influence. Therefore, by focusing on other more powerful geopolitical partners, Ashkhabad has nothing to lose when it rejects the idea of “energy Eurocentrism.”

Turkmenistan currently has a stable market for its energy resources, and it would be awkward for it to incur unnecessary political costs in the form of worsening relations with Gazprom’s South Stream. Especially since Europe is not fighting for gas pipelines now but for sources of raw materials and markets. Reinhard Mitschek, managing director of the Nabucco Consortium, had good reason for saying that he actually expects to see the first gas for the Nabucco pipeline come just from Iraq and Azerbaijan. But Baku will have to think hard before making that decision. “Azerbaijan is taking a low-profile approach to Nabucco,” believes Baku political analyst Rasim Musabekov. “The transit fees are not particularly important to us. And Turkmen gas in the Turkish market will only increase competition with gas from Azerbaijan.” A number of things could happen in Iraq following the withdrawal of US combat units that will have an adverse impact on Nabucco. As far as the Turkmen gas is concerned, it is under contract, after all—not only by Gazprom but also by the Chinese. Therefore, Turkmenistan simply will not have extra gas for the European market.

Source: New Eastern Outlook

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