Will Kazakhstan's oil reach Europe?

By Ainis Razma, VDU PMDI doktorantas

The main trend of the strategy for export of Kazakhstan’s energy resources is ultimate diversification of its roads, therefore oil export to Europe is in compliance with the country‘s interests.

During the meeting of presidents of Kazakhstan and Romania in Astana at the beginning of March, N.Nazarbayev said that the Kazakh oil should be delivered by the new pipeline via Azerbaijan and Georgia toward the Black Sea, further – by tankers to Romania (this demonstrates that after the Russian-Georgian war in 2008, Kazakhstan regained trust in the routes via South Caucasus). In 2012 it is envisaged to start operations of the huge Kashgan oilfield; besides, the country needs new export routes. Most probably that‘s why the national Kazakhstan’s oil company KazMunaiGaz has acquired the Romanian oil company Rompetrol.

But the Kazakh oil is already running toward Europe, i.e. through the southern branch of the oil pipeline Druzhba via Ukraine. Every year about 5,5 million tons of the Kazakh oil are delivered via the above branch. Although this route was not very reliable and cheap, during the visit of the Ukrainian president V.Yanukovich to Astana, the agreement was reached to revise the Kazakh oil transit tariffs. Ukraine received promises to have a possibility to negotiate the development of certain hydrocarbon fields in Kazakhstan.

It is important to note, that Kazakhstan’s foreign policy is quite transparent and predictable, although the country is balancing between the major global powers in the region. Europe is only one of the strategic vectors of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy. The remaining three are: Russia,China and the United States.

Russia seeks to control oil export of Kazakhstan with a view to becoming the single oil exporter in the region. Kazakhstan applies all possible diplomatic means in order to get rid of Moscow‘s control, and, by means of diversifying oil export routes, retains constructive relations with Russia. These relations are quite pragmatic and the country manages to reach agreement on nearly all disputable matters. Moscow also supports major international initiatives of Kazakhstan.
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China has always been a priority of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy. One of the reasons is that political passiveness towards China might determine major political and economic expansion of this state.  Together these countries pursue several infrastructure projects, among them Atasu-Alashankou oil pipeline project. China obtained another Kazakhstan’s oil company PetroKazachstan and acquired the right to the Kumkol field with about 42 million tons of oil; together with KazMunaiGaz it manages the Chimkent oil processing plant, and also purchased the Karazhanbas oilfield with 46 million tons of oil. But China‘s active involvement in Kazakhstan irritates the West.

The U.S. pursues its policy in Kazakhstan according to the document referred to by the White House as the main Central Asia’s strategy. Its main goals are: to reduce Russia‘s possibilities to control Kazakhstan’s oil and gas transit to the global market, to prevent China from gaining power in the region and to support oil and gas transport projects bypassing Iran.

European oil companies entered Kazakhstan only after the audacious Americans have prepared the road for them. Today the following companies operate in Kazakhstan: Agip/Eni, Shell Development B. V., British Petroleum and Total Fina Elf. They take part in Karachaganak and Kashgan oilfield projects.

Perspectives of oil delivery to Europe will depend on how the above situation would develop in the future. The term of president N.Nazarbayev expires in 2012. If his successor is in favor of Moscow, the Russian vector in Kazakhstan’s foreign policy might prevail. Such forecasts are often related to Timur Kulibayev, vice president of KazMunaiGaz and one of the sons-in-law of N. Nazarbayev. It is assumed that Timur Kulibayev has arranged an adventure, after which Lukoil acquired part of the oilfield in South Kumkol, and China suffered heavily from this. Thus, as soon as Timur Kulibayev comes to power, Russia might start dictating conditions for selling the Kazakh oil not only to the West, but also to China.

Kazakhstan’s refusal to pursue a balanced foreign policy would  derange global influences, and all global policy actors would probably try to avoid that. Thus, the above development of events is hardly possible.