Turkmenistan Becomes New Hunting Ground For EU Gas Supplies

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by Chris Devonshire-Ellis

The EU may have to bend some of its principles to obtain gas from Central Asia, while Russia and China will be warily looking out for the potential of Western induced conflict over energy resources.

It is not within some irony that the European Union has turned to Central Asia’s Turkmenistan in diversifying its natural gas supply chains – although the country is for practical purposes neutral, it is an ex-Soviet state, maintains strong connections with Russia and is partially reliant on Russian expertise in the gas industry sector. It is additionally a key transit route for China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Natalie Costello, Director of the Advisory Committee of Trans Caspian Resources company, said during the “Oil and Gas of Turkmenistan” (OGT-2022) forum, that today’s situation in the energy market today has forced many countries to reconsider their views on energy security, she said.

Turkmen media says that Turkmenistan has been in discussions with Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia, and the European Union concerning the possibility of building a gas pipeline with a capacity of 10 billion to 30 billion cubic meters of gas per year. That is the equivalent of one of the now suspended Nordstream 2 pipelines, each of which had a capacity of 27.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year.

The total reserves of natural gas in Turkmenistan are estimated at 50 trillion cubic meters.

The project developed by Trans Caspian Resources will make it possible to arrange the supply of Turkmen natural gas to Azerbaijan and further to the South Caucasus, Turkey and other countries that will be in need of gas, including the now energy-short EU.

The Trans-Caspian Interconnector project is expected to be implemented, which, according to preliminary estimates, will take about four months and will require investments of US$400 million. The basis for the implementation of the project will be the infrastructure already available in Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan in the Caspian Sea.

Meanwhile, the Trans-Caspian Interconnector will allow for the supply of Turkmen natural gas to Azerbaijan and further to the Transcaucasian region, Turkey and other countries. It will ensure the supply of 10-12 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year.

In 2021, Trans Caspian Resources company presented its project of the Trans-Caspian Interconnector, a smaller gas pipeline (compared to the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline) from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan.

This ushers in the prospect of competition between East and West over Turkmenistan, which is also the source of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. Turkmenistan also pipes gas through to Iran and Turkey.

Since independence in 1991, Turkmenistan has positioned itself in some isolation, preferring not to engage with regional trade initiatives, although it is an observer state to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. It has sided with both Moscow and Beijing since 1991 and is developing as a transit hub between Asia and Europe, with both Russian and Chinese infrastructure assisting the country with its economic and development potential. The first Turkmenistan-China direct cargo train arrived in China’s Xinjiang Province just last week, while trade West via its Turkmenbashi Port on the Caspian Sea is also rapidly growing. Container volumes passing through Turkmenistan from Asia to Europe rose by over 100% in 2021, and with the development of the Russia-avoiding, southern routes to Europe via Kazak and Turkmen Caspian sea ports through to Azerbaijan’s Baku Port and onwards to EU accessing Turkish and Georgian ports on the Black Sea, this trend can be expected to further increase.

There will be questions asked in the EU however. Turkmenistan is essentially run as a closely guarded family dynasty, and has been long accused by the West of a lack of democracy, human rights abuses, media freedoms, LBGT intolerance and the imprisonment of homosexuals, let alone serious transparency issues. Ashgabat will not react positively to attempts to introduce ‘Western values’ into what remains a deeply conservative, yet culturally rich country with thousands of years of doing things its way.

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About Us

Chris Devonshire-Ellis is the Chairman of Dezan Shira & Associates. The firm assists British and Foreign Investment into Asia and has 28 offices throughout China, India, the ASEAN nations and Russia. For strategic and business intelligence concerning China’s Belt & Road Initiative please email silkroad@dezshira.com or visit us at www.dezshira.com