Participation of Turkmenistan and possibly Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in the Southern Corridor for gas to Europe would bolster their sovereign independence, according to a new report by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s GOP staff titled “Energy and Security from the Caspian to Europe”, reported Silk Road Newsline.
Released in Washington on Wednesday, December 12, the 65-page report says: “The next phase of the Southern Corridor would advance several U.S. and NATO foreign policy objectives: it would further isolate Iran, assist in cultivating partners in the Caucasus and Central Asia and bolster their sovereign independence, and perhaps most importantly, curtail Russia’s energy leverage over European NATO allies.”
“Utilizing expanded production of natural gas in Azerbaijan as a supply anchor, this stage envisions the expansion of the South Caucasus Pipeline, a new pipeline route across Turkey, and construction of one or more pipelines from the Turkish border further into Europe. The United States and our allies have also pressed for additional gas from Turkmenistan and Iraq to supply the Southern Corridor,” the study says.
The report warns that that in order for this project to succeed Azerbaijan “should use its controlling stakes in the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) and the South Caucasus Pipeline (SCP) to guarantee access for Turkmenistan gas, as well as future gas from Kazakhstan and other nations.”
“Beyond Azerbaijani natural gas (1.3 trillion cubic meters, or tcm, of reserves), other regional powers, beginning with Turkmenistan (24.3 tcm) and possibly including Kazakhstan (1.9 tcm) and Uzbekistan (1.6 tcm), could transform Azerbaijan into a key gas transit hub as well. However, Azerbaijan has yet to fully embrace this prospect and has sent mixed signals on its willingness to allow other nations’ natural gas to compete with its own in the Southern Corridor. Without guaranteed transit access, a trans-Caspian pipeline is a non-starter,” the report says.
According to the study, “Turkmenistan’s conventional natural gas supply, the world’s fourth largest, has high potential for being joined to the Southern Corridor by constructing a Trans-Caspian Pipeline from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan’s energy infrastructure. However, a combination of inscrutable leadership, geopolitical pressure by Russia, and an investment climate unfriendly to energy majors has hampered progress, and the window for Turkmenistan’s participation in the Southern Corridor may be closing.”
“The principal impediment for the Trans-Caspian Pipeline remains a failure of the Turkmenistan Government to exhibit the necessary political will. Put bluntly, the President of Turkmenistan must decide whether to assert Turkmenistan’s independence from Russia,” the report says.
The report argues that the Southern Corridor and Eurasian energy security “will require constant attention” by the United States and the European Union.
“The need to embolden former Soviet states in making strategic energy decisions is not unfamiliar. Similar problems initially hindered the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, but a coalition of support built by the EU, the United States, and a handful of energy majors helped push the project through. A similar coalition will have to be built around trans-Caspian gas transit. Russia should be invited to play a constructive role in these talks, and its response will be indicative of whether it is a good faith partner of Turkmenistan or has ulterior motives in preventing Turkmenistan’s energy development according to its sovereign interests,” the study says.
“The United States should ensure that senior U.S. civilian visits to Turkmenistan occur more frequently to indicate high-level political support for trans-Caspian shipments of Turkmen gas,” the report recommends. “The European Union should involve more national bilateral European delegations in talks with Turkmenistan. A visit by a high-level delegation from Germany would be particularly helpful because of Germany’s position as a large gas consumer and the close affinity for Germany held by Turkmenistan’s leadership.”