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
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
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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