Dispatch: Energy Pipeline Politics in the Former Soviet Union

Analyst Eugene Chausovsky examines the current politics of energy infrastructure from the Caucasus region to central Europe as the European Union seeks alternatives to Russia.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski continued his weeklong tour of the Caucasus region on July 27, where he is visiting Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Poland, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, is trying to establish closer ties to all of these countries. Of these countries, Azerbaijan represents the most important, both to Poland and to wider Europe.

Azerbaijan is important both for its strategic location and for its energy, particularly as a growing natural gas producer and exporter. The latter is what Azerbaijan has been heavily courted by the West as demonstrated by Poland’s recent initiative to restart energy negotiations with Azerbaijan along with Turkmenistan, which is a major natural gas producer and exporter under the format of the EU. The reason that these countries are so important to the EU is that they would represent a formidable alternative to Russian energy supplies, which Moscow uses not only as an economic but also as a political tool. The EU has been focusing specifically on two energy projects: Nabucco and Trans-Caspian.

Nabucco is a project that would take natural gas from Azerbaijan, across Turkey, through southeastern Europe to the gas-trading hub of Vienna, via a pipeline. Nabucco will be very difficult to construct, however, and, because of Nabucco’s high cost and capacity, another source of energy must be included into the project. And that is where the Trans-Caspian pipeline comes in. The Trans-Caspian project would connect Turkmenistan’s natural gas supplies to Azerbaijan, across the Caspian Sea, and would make Nabucco a much more viable project, at least in terms of securing suppliers.

But it is for this reason that these projects face substantial resistance from outside powers. Russia knows that if Nabucco were to come online, it would be a significant blow to Russia’s use of energy as a tool of influence in Europe, particularly central Europe. Therefore, Russia has been working to block the progress of Nabucco and foster divisions within the various European partners included in the project.

The Trans-Caspian project has also faced substantial resistance from Russia, as well as Iran, and is being contested on the legal and political grounds. So despite the fact that Poland has demonstrated an interest in reviving the Nabucco and Trans-Caspian projects, both of these projects to face many political and technical obstacles.