Turkmenistan’s Energy Attracts Russia and Uzbekistan’s Attention

2010/10/24

Summary

Uzbek President Islam Karimov visited Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimukhammedov for talks, particularly about energy ties, Oct. 19-20. This visit comes amid some unusual activity in Turkmenistan, including renewed attention from Russia. While Russia is trying to ensure access to Turkmen natural gas for the future, Uzbekistan is concerned that Turkmenistan will lose interest in its energy relationship with China — a relationship that has proven profitable for Uzbekistan as a transit state. Uzbekistan will continue trying to wean Turkmenistan away from Russia, but Russia currently has the upper hand.

Analysis

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimukhammedov and his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, met in Ashgabat for talks Oct. 19-20, with energy ties as one of the chief topics. This meeting comes amid what STRATFOR considers some unusual activity in Turkmenistan over the past week. This includes the Oct. 16 inauguration of a new natural gas pipeline — a project between Turkmen and Russian energy firms — at a time when Turkmenistan’s natural gas exports to Russia are down by roughly 80 percent and existing pipelines have plenty of capacity to increase export flows. Furthermore, the Kremlin made a last-minute announcement that Russian President Dmitri Medvedev would visit Turkmenistan to meet with Berdimukhammedov on Oct. 21. This was preceded by Karimov’s meeting with the Turkmen president, which was also announced shortly before it occurred.

According to STRATFOR sources, the reason for the new pipeline and Medvedev’s subsequent visit is that, even though Russia does not need Turkmen natural gas supplies in the midst of its own current natural gas glut, Moscow wants to ensure that it can monopolize Turkmenistan’s natural gas exports when it does need them in the future. Moscow could be thinking ahead to a time when Europe’s natural gas demands increase again, or it could be trying to ensure Ashgabat’s participation in projects like South Stream (as opposed to Nabucco, a European-led project which seeks to diversify energy imports away from Russia). While neither scenario is likely to call for a dramatic increase in Russia’s need for Turkmenistan’s supplies in the near future, Moscow wants to ensure Ashgabat’s long-term loyalty. STRATFOR sources also said that, while Turkmenistan and Russia have had a rocky relationship recently, the discussion of Turkmenistan’s involvement in South Stream has eclipsed those past issues, as Turkmenistan is pleased to be included in such a high-profile Russian project.

Uzbekistan is not thrilled about Turkmenistan’s sudden warmth toward Russia, which could be the reason for Karimov’s visit. Now that Turkmenistan’s energy relationship — and by extension political relationship — with Russia is improving, Tashkent reportedly is worried that Ashgabat will have less interest in its energy ties with China. Turkmenistan opened a natural gas pipeline to China in late 2009, and Uzbekistan receives a great deal of revenue as a transit state for these energy exports. Ashgabat has expressed interest in increasing exports through this line, though these exports have only increased marginally thus far (China’s import levels and payments have not reached the level Turkmenistan hoped for). Karimov has gone to Turkmenistan to ensure that Ashgabat will stick to its plans to help fill the pipeline to China and keep Beijing satisfied with its Central Asian partners. Karimov proposed at the Oct. 20 meeting with Berdimukhammedov that Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan set up a joint oil and natural gas consortium, as well as set up a transport corridor between the two countries to the Middle East. This shows that Uzbekistan is trying to get Turkmenistan to serve Uzbek interests and not get too close to Russia.

While Berdimukhammedov publicly showed enthusiasm for these proposals, Turkmenistan ultimately is not as interested in them since such projects would not give Ashgabat the immediate export increase and revenues it needs. Turkmenistan wants bring back its natural gas exports to pre-cutoff levels, and only Russia can help Turkmenistan accomplish this. Therefore, as long as Russia gives Turkmenistan the attention it wants, Moscow has the upper hand.

sursa: Strator

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