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Russia seeks dynamics in relations with Turkmenistan

30 March 2019 16:31 (UTC+04:00)
Russia seeks dynamics in relations with Turkmenistan

By Trend

Russian "Gazprom" may in the near future resume the purchase of Turkmen gas interrupted in 2016, said the head of "Gazprom" Alexei Miller after talks in Ashgabat with President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, TASS reports.

He said that the company sees great prospects for expanding cooperation in the gas sector within the framework of the contract for the purchase of Turkmen gas.

Back in November last year, when the Russian delegation headed by Miller visited Ashgabat for talks after a long break, some Russian media mentioned the figure of 3 billion cubic meters – the volume that Russia will allegedly buy from Turkmenistan.

But, if such volumes are discussed, it is a drop in the ocean for Russia. So, the economic component, at least for Russia, is likely to be secondary.

Turkmenistan has huge reserves of natural gas. The most popular explanation of Russia's renewed interest in Turkmen gas, voiced in the media, is of competitive nature. That is, Moscow doesn’t want the project of Turkmen gas export to Europe to get realized as it may challenge Russia’s gas positions at the European continent.

However, this explanation is correct only to a certain point. Last year, for example, Russia produced the record 733 bcm of gas whereas its export to Europe amounted to about 200 bcm. Turkmen 30 bcm per year will be a valuable acquisition for Europe in terms of diversification of sources and routes of gas supplies, but is unlikely to seriously affect Russia's supplies.

So, Russia does not need to purchase large volumes of Turkmen gas in order to resell it to Europeans.

From time to time, the EU verbally expresses its interest in seeing Turkmen gas flowing to Europe, but the matter does not go beyond words.

The issue surfaced again, after the agreement on the legal status of the Caspian Sea was reached in August last year, which created a ground for the construction of the Trans-Caspian pipeline from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan.

In October last year, the implementation of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project was discussed during the visit of the Turkmen delegation to Brussels. The EU expressed its readiness to promote investments in the project. The issue was also discussed at the German-Turkmen business forum held in Berlin in February this year.

In turn, a high-ranking representative of the government of Turkmenistan took part in the meeting of the Advisory Council on the Southern Gas Corridor held in Baku in February.

Even US President Donald Trump, in his congratulatory message on the occasion of New Spring (Novruz) holiday in the name of the President Berdimuhamedov, wrote: "I hope that Turkmenistan will be able to take advantage of new opportunities in gas exports to the West in connection with the recent determination of the legal status of the Caspian Sea".

All of that should’ve been irritating for Russia and be the explanation of the new Russian initiative.

And yet, for Russia, the matter of competition between Russian and Turkmen gas is not the main reason for the newly emerged interest in Turkmen gas purchases in order to divert Ashgabat's attention from the idea of export to Europe.

Turkmenistan, like the entire Central Asia region, has historically been the area of economic and geopolitical interests of Russia. Of all the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, Turkmenistan is the one least engaged with Russia.

After independence, Turkmenistan declared the principle of neutrality in foreign policy. Turkmenistan is neither a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), nor a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) – organizations created upon Russian’s initiative.

Russia needs dynamics in relations, especially with neighboring countries (call it leverage if you want), to control processes around its borders, to ensure its national interests.

Purchasing gas in trying times for the economy of Turkmenistan, Moscow hopes for reciprocal gestures of goodwill and closer relations with the country, which is not in a hurry to open itself to the outside world.

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