Trans Caspian Pipeline: A New Round “For” and “Against”
While many supporters including European Commission are struggling to help natural gas from Turkmenistan to find a route to Europe, others seems to keep trying to block its efforts challenging with political and environmental concerns.
Gas supply from the energy rich Central Asian nation to Turkey and further to Europe was a core discussion between Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Turkmen counterpart Gurbangulu Berdymuhamedov in Ankara earlier this week.
Following a meeting with Turkmen president Erdogan announced that Turkey, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan will establish a trilateral mechanism on energy issues with the first leaders' meeting planning later this year.
Speaking at a joint press conference, Erdogan said that Turkey will continue to work with Turkmenistan to promote regional stability, prosperity and security.
He called Turkey-Turkmenistan relations “strategic,” particularly due to the transportation and energy cooperation between the two countries.
Mentioning that Turkmenistan plays a key role in connecting Central Asian gas with international markets, Erdogan said he had exchanged views with Berdymuhamedov on transporting Turkmen gas to European markets via Turkey.
In January the first trilateral meeting of foreign ministers of Turkey, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan for energy cooperation was held in Turkmen capital Ashgabat.
According to the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the three ministers discussed how to safely deliver Azerbaijani and Turkmen gas from the Caspian sea to Europe enroute via Turkey.
Now Erdogan said they decided to raise it to presidential level. "We decided to raise it to the level of leaders and hold the first meeting in Turkmenistan this year," said Erdogan.
Last November Turkey and Turkmenistan have reached a framework agreement for pumping gas from Central Asia’s fields to Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP).
In Ashgabat two presidents witnessed of signing of a gas supply deal between Turkmen state-owned Turkmengaz and private Turkish firm Atagas. However, the terms of inked document did not disclosed.
The possible routes of Turkmen gas via Turkey to Europe may pass through Azerbaijan or through Iran.
However Trans Caspian route with construction a pipeline across the sea from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan has been considered as more reliable for political and security reasons.
European Union for years is considering the Central Asian nation of 5.5 million people, which holds the world's fourth-largest reserves of natural gas, as alternative sources for energy supply.
The EU has been trying to facilitate diplomacy between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan on the Trans Caspian pipeline project, begun in 2011, more or less intensifying its efforts from time to time.
TCP has become a subject of active discussions after presenting the European Energy Union package.
Europe will try to overcome Russian resistance via gas agreements with Turkmenistan through Azerbaijan, European Commission Vice-President for Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič told the Financial Times.
Ankara involvement and interest in the TCP could be very useful for all involved parties as it has close ties with Ashgabat and become number two trading partner for Turkmenistan after China.
Just ahead of the Berdymuhamedov visit to Turkey, Turkmenistan's Ministry for Oil & Mineral Resources released a statement promising to supply natural gas to Europe.
Turkmenistan actively works to supply from 10 to 30 billion cubic meters of gas per year to the European market considering an option of building the Trans-Caspian pipeline from its coast to Azerbaijan, the statement said.
Initially the gas resources of the Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea estimated in 16 bcm per year may be supply source for Trans-Caspian.
With commissioning of the East-West gas pipeline connecting huge gas reserves in the eastern part of the country to Caspian additional volumes will be added later with doubling export.
Recent Gazprom announcement for further cutting gas supply from Turkmenistan from last year 10 bcm to 4 billion cubic meters in 2015 is one of the factor pushing the Central Asia nation to work harder on further diversification of gas export.
Otherwise Turkmenistan will soon exchange Russia to China as a major and only buyer of its energy resources.
Azerbaijan is seems became more favorably towards TCP also, considering to attract more resources for further expansion of TANAP pipeline as well as future extending the Southern gas corridor to Balkans and other Eastern European markets.
However no one could say that Moscow will be happy with latest developments around TCP.
Russia always was against construction of Trans Caspian pipelines – both oil and gas.
When Kazakhstan was discussing with Azerbaijan future oil export from giant Kashagan field using Baku Tbilisi Ceyhan pipeline, harsh Russia opposition led to idea for delivery crude across the Caspian by tankers, not a pipeline.
Kazakhstan Caspian Transportation system (KCTS) has never been set up due to several postpones and delays with Kashagan development.
Gas export across Caspian met the same antagonism. Russia peremptorily opposes the idea of construction pipeline connections between any Caspian states without full consensus of all five littoral states.
The resent counterargument was made by ambassador-at-large of the Russian Foreign Ministry Igor Bratchikov in Baku, where the meeting of the working group on determining the legal status of the Caspian Sea was held .
The issues of laying pipelines and cables under the Caspian Sea are still on the agenda and the discussions are going on, he said at press-conference following the two-day meeting.
Speaking of a draft of Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, Bratchikov said that it has a separate paragraph on the issue. “It is under discussion. There are different approaches to it” he said.
Azerbaijan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov believed “that this issue will also be resolved in the future based on the goodwill of all the littoral states”.
Baku and Ashgabat believe that construction of TCP is the sovereign right of the two countries, since the pipeline will run through their territorial waters.
Russia and Iran insisted that this issue can be considered only after determining the legal status of the Caspian Sea.
With such directly opposite positions on at least one paragraph of the future Convention for the Caspian Sea it is difficult to believe, that the accord will be finally agreed and signed in Astana in 2016, when head of five Caspian states will gather for their next summit.
Will Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan with help of EC manage to make Trans-Caspian reality sometime soon? Will Turkey's involvement help? As always in gas matters, the larger question of politics dominates.