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Russia's statement on Trans-Caspian has clear political overtones

11 June 2015 16:53 (UTC+04:00)
Russia's statement on Trans-Caspian has clear political overtones

By Aynur Karimova

The Trans-Caspian pipeline, the construction of which is still at the negotiations stage, has already begun to show the features of not an economic project, but a political one.

In a recent statement, Russia expressed concerns about the potential threats that the pipeline poses to the Caspian region's ecology.

The statement can be seen as an impediment in the desire of the EU, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan to realize this project.

The Trans-Caspian pipeline project, widely regarded as the optimal option to deliver Turkmen gas to European markets, envisages the construction of a roughly 300 kilometer-long gas pipeline under the Caspian to the shores of Azerbaijan, which will then connect to the existing Turkish energy infrastructure in the hopes of bringing the gas to Europe.

Fikret Sadikhov, a political scientist and Professor at Western University believes that Russia's statement about the negative impact of the Trans-Caspian pipeline to the environment is unfounded and has clear political overtones.

"As a rule, in the absence of serious arguments, the appearance of environmental problems is created. Wishes to preserve nature, water space, and to protect them from the impact of any additional highways and pipelines are expressed. The pipeline routes, which are laid in almost all marine waters, including the Caspian Sea, connect various countries and continents. And their construction is conducted according to high technologies and environmental standards," he told Trend.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich has accused Western environmental organizations of ignoring the potential threats that the Trans-Caspian pipeline will have on the Caspian region's ecology.

"The environmental aspect of this issue primarily concerns the Caspian littoral states without any exception. In this regard, all five Caspian states have the voting right," the Russian diplomat said.

Sadikhov said Russia's statement should not cause a serious concern.

"Azerbaijan has been implementing its energy policy for many years, and a number of countries try to impede it. Such statements of the Russian side were sounded in the 90s, on the eve of the signing of the "Contract of the Century," he noted.

The project may be implemented as a part of a large Southern Gas Corridor project designed to transport Azerbaijani gas from the Caspian region to European countries.

The possibility of connection of Turkmen gas to the Southern Gas Corridor jeopardizes Russia's interests in the European gas market. If the Trans-Caspian pipeline project is realized, Moscow will have to divvy market share not only with Azerbaijan, but also with Turkmenistan.

Therefore, Russia seeks to slow down the development of the project by any means, and lately, this has come in the form of Lukashevich’s statement on stressing the importance of the environmental factor a few days ago.

Russia's arguments serve for commercial and political interest

Marco Giuli, an analyst on energy issues at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre, believes that Russian arguments over the Trans-Caspian pipeline are clearly made for the benefit of its commercial and political interest.

"Russia has been for a long time against the Trans-Caspian pipeline," he told Trend. "The Trans-Caspian pipeline failure in the past has been one of the main drivers to Nabucco’s failure, which went to Russia’s advantage."

He said one has to figure out why the construction of the Trans-Caspian pipeline failed in the past, and take into account the fact that the reasons for the past failure have changed.

"The most relevant changes are that Russia no longer offers an export outlet to Turkmenistan, with that Turkmenistan now needs to look to the West to diversify its client base. Moreover the tensions in Ukraine are providing further political impetus to the EU Commission’s efforts to reach deals with the countries involved in the Southern Gas Corridor, and more backing by EU member states," the expert added.

The negotiations between the EU, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan on the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline began in September 2011. However Russia and Iran have always spoken out against the Trans-Caspian pipeline due to ecological issues from the pipeline's construction. The unresolved status of the Caspian Sea has been regarded as the main factor hindering the implementation of the project.

In May, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan signed an agreement on the delimitation of their maritime border in the Caspian Sea, which was interpreted by some as Turkmenistan's intention to show the international community that the national sectors of the Caspian Sea is de facto recognized.

The official position of Ashgabat regarding the project is that the consent of the countries whose territories are directly involved is enough to build a pipeline. Azerbaijan has repeatedly expressed readiness to provide its territory, transit facilities, and infrastructure for the realization of the project.

Bruce Pannier, an expert on Central Asia and Senior Correspondent at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, has doubts, however, that the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline will be constructed by 2019.

"Technically, it is not difficult, but there is an issue of ‘environmental concerns’ of Russia, which has to be resolved. In addition, the legal status of the Caspian Sea have not determined yet," he noted.

The construction of the Trans-Caspian Pipeline is in the interest of the EU, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. Europe seeks to decrease its dependence on Russian gas, while Turkmenistan aims to greatly expand the diversification of gas supply routes, as well as create an additional guarantee for the reliable and stable export of energy resources to international markets. Meanwhile Azerbaijan is interested in in the huge benefits of transporting Turkmen gas via its territory.

Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and the EU's energy alliance is only possible, however, after reaching an agreement with the region's main player, Russia.

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Aynur Karimova is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @Aynur_Karimova

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