Ukrainian crisis and Turkmen gas
Against the background of the Ukrainian crisis and possible problems with the transit of Russian gas to the European Union, the US and the EU, blocking the construction of the South Stream, they are trying to reanimate the project of supplies of Turkmen gas to Europe. These attempts began to be made long before the transition of the Ukrainian crisis into the “hot” phase, which indicates long-term planning of the goals that the West sets for itself in Ukraine.
Europe has long wanted to reduce its dependence on Russian gas exports. The Ukrainian crisis only provided a convenient excuse for this. The problem is that there are few gas fields capable of solving the energy problems of the EU, and they are located in remote areas. Large reserves of natural gas are located in the countries of the Caspian basin, and, above all, in Turkmenistan. However, in order to take advantage of them, it is necessary to build a gas pipeline under the Caspian Sea, the project of which European and American companies cannot implement with 1990's.
The persistent attempts by the US and the EU to block the construction of South Stream are largely due to the desire to create competitive advantages for the project of the southern energy corridor, designed to ensure gas supplies from the Caspian basin to the EU countries. The South Stream, which should pass under the Black Sea, is able to solve most of the problems with gas supplies to South and Central Europe, bypassing Ukraine, which is engulfed in political chaos and civil war. To prevent its construction, the United States, as you know, put strong pressure on the authorities of Bulgaria, and EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger threatened the consequences of those EU countries that decide to support the Russian project. At the same time, the West is quietly preparing a base in order to reanimate its own gas pipeline construction projects from the Central Asian region, bypassing the territory of the Russian Federation.
The construction of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline is an old dream of the West, which plans to tear off the countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia rich in oil and gas from Russia. But for this it is necessary to build a transport infrastructure, since the former Soviet republics did not have access to the European energy market independent of Russia. The Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project appeared in 1996 year.
In 1998, the US and USA have allocated 1,3 million dollars. on the development of a feasibility study for a project to deliver gas from Eastern Turkmenistan to Turkish Erzurum. It was planned to launch the gas pipeline in 2002, however, in 2000, all project work was curtailed on the initiative of the Turkmen side.
The Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline was commissioned in 2007, but only Azerbaijani gas fields were the resource base for it. The problem of delivering Turkmen gas to Azerbaijan and further to Europe at that time was not resolved.
At the turn of the “zero” and “tenth” years, after two “gas wars” between Russia and Ukraine, the West once again intensified its efforts to build a gas pipeline. In 2010, the United States allocated 1,7 million to Azerbaijan. to develop a technical justification of the project. The design work involved the German company RWE and the Austrian OMV. At the same time, the European Union began to actively promote the idea of building Nabucco - the main gas pipeline from Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan through Turkey to the EU countries with a design capacity of about 30 billion cubic meters per year. The development of this project was carried out from 2002. At the beginning of the “tenth” years, the EU began to make active attempts to get it off the ground, simultaneously trying to solve the problem of building a gas pipeline through the Caspian Sea, without which Nabucco simply would not have enough gas. The Russian South Stream was initially considered by the EU as a competitor to Nabucco. European Commissioner for Energy G. Etinger bluntly stated that he considers it undesirable. According to him, the South Stream can arrange the European Union only as another channel for the supply of Russian gas to Europe. If it supplies Caspian gas, it will be undesirable, as access to the fields in Central Asia, where the world's largest reserves of natural gas are stored, is a key issue for the EU.
The main obstacle to the construction of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline is the fact that the Caspian is not a sea, but a lake, and international maritime law does not apply to it.
The legal status of the Caspian Sea is currently determined by the agreement between the RSFSR and Persia of February 26 1921 of the year and the trade and navigation agreement between the USSR and Iran of March 25 of March 1940. These agreements, based on the principle of “shared water”, provide for freedom of navigation and fishing for the Caspian states (with the exception of the 10-mile fishing zone), as well as the prohibition of navigation under the flags of non-Caspian countries. Subsoil use, environmental protection and military activities do not regulate the Soviet-Iranian agreements. However, the validity of these agreements is not recognized by all the republics of the former USSR.
For more than two decades that have passed since the collapse of the USSR, coastal states have not reached a common opinion on the legal status of the Caspian Sea. Russia proposes to divide the seabed according to the principle of the median line, preserving the surface and water mass in common use, and divide the controversial deposits according to the 50 principle: 50. Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan generally supported the Russian proposal. However, initially Azerbaijan advocated the division of the Caspian into national sectors, embarking on the development of the shelf on "its" territory. Turkmenistan started the same line, where the National Service for the Development of the Turkmen Sector of the Caspian Sea was established. The same principle underlies the position of the EU, which believes that the gas pipeline will run exclusively through the territory of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. However, the current status of the Caspian Sea, this position is contrary.
Nevertheless, the European Union, apparently, wants to simply ignore the legal problems of laying the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline. According to Marlen Holzner, a representative of the European Commissioner for Energy, the issue of the status of the Caspian Sea in the gas pipeline construction documents will not be touched upon, and disputes about it on the laying of the pipe should not be affected. This is due to the fact that, from the point of view of the EU, the gas pipeline will pass through the territory of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, which means that other countries cannot block this construction. Their opinion can be taken into account only when addressing environmental safety issues, as was the case during the construction of the Nord Stream.
The project of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline does not take into account the position of Iran, which agrees to divide it only into equal shares of 20%. At the same time, the borders of the Iranian sector can noticeably move to the north, which does not at all please Baku and Ashgabat. To build a gas pipeline in conditions where it is not clear who exactly the bottom belongs to and the water column of this section of the sea is very problematic. The lack of legal guarantees of investment has led to the fact that none of the large companies are willing to invest in it. Meanwhile, problems with the laying of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline were the main cause of the collapse of Nabucco. In 2012, Turkey and the EU announced plans to build a more modest pipeline. Thus, Turkey stated that it considers the Trans Anadolu (TANAP) gas pipeline to be a priority, which involves the use of already existing Turkish gas pipelines and the construction of additional routes not from the Caspian region, but from the Bulgarian-Turkish border. In March, 2012, the majority of Nabucco shareholders, approved the curtailed Nabucco West gas pipeline project, designed to deliver only Azerbaijani gas.
However, this option also proved to be unviable, and in June 2013 was announced the final closure of the Nabucco project.
Another stumbling block in the way of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline is the long-standing dispute between Ashgabat and Baku over the ownership of the Azeri (Khazar), Chirag (Osman) and Kapaz (Serdar) oil fields. In the first of these, an international consortium led by BP has long been producing oil, which causes discontent on the part of Turkmenistan. The Kapaz (Turkmen version of the name Serdar), which may contain up to 150 million barrels of oil and gas condensate, is still the subject of controversy. When conducting the maritime border, both Ashgabat and Baku agree to be guided by the principle of the median line. But Azerbaijan considers it right to determine it on the basis of equidistance from the extreme points of the coastline, and Turkmenistan - in the midst of geographic latitudes, with the result that Kapaz turns out to be on its territory. Baku’s proposal to develop Kapaz jointly Ashgabat did not suit. In 2008, the presidents of the two countries agreed to take no action to develop the field until the dispute over its ownership was resolved. However, in June 2012 between Ashgabat and Baku a diplomatic scandal erupted. Azerbaijan protested against the fact that the Turkmen research vessel attempted to launch seismic work at the field.
It seems that the West decided to build the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, despite Russia's objections. Preparations for this began long before Euromaidan’s transition to the stage of a coup d'état. At the end of 2013, the head of the EU office in Ashgabat, Denis Daniilidis, reported that the agreement between Baku and Ashgabat on the construction of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline was close to completion. With the start of 2014, the parties stepped up diplomatic efforts. In January, Azerbaijan sent a spiritual leader, Sheikh ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade, to Turkmenistan with a letter from President Ilham Aliyev to President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, and at the end of March the presidents held a telephone conversation during which they exchanged invitations to pay official visits to their countries. 2 April, the head of the Turkmen Foreign Ministry Rashid Meredov unexpectedly visited Baku. As the American Internet resource EurasiaNet notes, this is the first visit made by a person of such high rank with 2009. And although the content of his talks remains unknown, analysts suggest that they were talking about building a gas pipeline across the Caspian Sea.
On April 18, a meeting was held in Ashgabat between President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and Chairman of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Rovnag Abdullayev, who discussed "issues related to the implementation of joint projects in the field of laying gas transit pipelines." The initiative, apparently, belonged to the Azerbaijani side. R. Abdullayev, in particular, emphasized "the interest of the Azerbaijani company in establishing full-scale cooperation with the republic as a partner who has significant resource potential." G. Berdimuhamedov, in response, noted that Turkmenistan is actively diversifying supply routes. However, unlike Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan already has gas pipelines in the Chinese and Iranian directions, actively lobbying for the construction of a new gas pipeline through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India. Ashgabat plans to start implementing this project next year, so its interest in the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline is much lower than that of Baku. It is not by chance that in the commentary of the press service of G. Berdymukhamedov on the negotiations with R. Abdullayev it was noted that “there are disagreements regarding the procedure for resolving legal issues with other Caspian states”
Nevertheless, the West does not intend to abandon plans for the construction of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline. The Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic-speaking countries (TurkPA), in which Turkey is trying to involve Turkmenistan, can be used as a tool for resolving the contradictions between Ashgabat and Baku.
In connection with the intensification of work on the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, in the near future we can also expect the reincarnation of the Nabucco project, without which Turkmen gas cannot be delivered to Europe.
As for Russia, building the US and the EU of the southern energy corridor threatens with further complications along South Stream, the construction of which threatens to bury alternative European projects.