Interests of Qatar and the UAE to clash in Turkmenistan
A new phase of competing for Turkmen gas has started. As soon as Ashkhabad announced the beginning of construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI)gas pipeline, Arab sheikhs began arriving in the Turkmen capital one after another. On March 7th the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, visited Ashkhabad. Three days later, on March 10th, the Minister of the United Arab Emirates, the head of the national oil company of Abu Dhabi ADNOC, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, visited the country. Experts believe that a conflict between different interests of Qatar and the UAE may take place in Turkmenistan. Qatar worries about competition with Turkmenistan on the markets of South and Southeast Asia, while the UEA doesn’t hide its desire to participate in production of Turkmen gas.
Turkmenistan has started construction of its 214-km-long TAPI gas pipeline, the head of the State Agency for Management and Use of Hydrocarbon Resources under the President of Turkmenistan, Yagshigeldy Kakayev, stated at the last meeting of the government. He reported that drilling works started at the Galkynysh field, which was the resource basis of the project. The gas pipeline will have a capacity of 33 billion cubic meters and pass from the Galkynysh field through Afghanistan (Herat and Kandahar) and Pakistan (Quetta and Multan) to the Indian point of Fazilka. The project is being implemented by the consortium of Japanese (JGC, Mitsubishi, Itochi, Chiyoda, and Sojitz) and Turkish (Chalik Group и Ronesans) companies. It is planned that by the end of 2018 Turkmenistan will be able to reach the Soviet level of gas export – more than 80 billion cubic meters annually. However, it will happen only if the US completely provides the security of the whole pipeline. At the moment, the Americans haven’t made any statements on the issue. The project has both supporters and opponents.
“A big game over Turkmen gas which should be provided to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and partially India through thr TAPI pipeline is taking place. Qatar is not satisfied with the scenario – Doha doesn’t need rivals on the gas markets of Pakistan, India, and Southeast Asia. Exports of cheap Turkmen gas to the same markets will serious damage Qatar’s interests, which is a monopolist in the region, Alexander Knyazev, an expert on Central Asia and the Middle East, told Vestnik Kavkaza. He doesn’t rule out that Qatar would be happy to see a freezing of the TAPI project, and this has been the real goal of the Emir’s visit. It was planned that, according to results of the talks between the two states, a big package of documents would have been signed. Ashkhabad hoped for investments. However, no economic miracle happened. After the tete-a-tete meeting and a “cultural program”, which included a visit to the Akhaltek Horse Ride Complex and giving an Akhaltek racer named Meledag to the Emir Al Thani as a present, the head of Qatar left hospitable Ashkhabad without signing any serious document. At least, there is no official or unofficial information on signing agreements.
However, Qatar is not the only country which stands against Turkmen gas exports to the markets of South and Southeast Asia. China wants to get all the Turkmen gas and use it exclusively for its own purposes. “Moreover, the construction of TAPI will lead to a growth of importance of the US in Afghanistan and Pakistan, while China traditionally stands against strengthening of positions of non-regional players,” Knyazev said. According to him, TAPI is a direct rival for the Iranian-Pakistani project of the gas pipeline ‘Peace’ which should pass from the biggest Iranian gas field South Pars to Pakistani Balochistan and then (this is the second part of the project, which is not covered) through the Karakorum roadway to Chinese Xinjiang.
Unlike the Qatari visit, the visit of the State Minister of the UAE, the head of the national oil company of Abu Dhabi ADNOC, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, was positively assessed by experts. The UAE is ready to invest in the gas projects of Turkmenistan. Analysts point out that Abu Dhabi hasn’t lost interest in Turkmen resources; moreover, it is ready to invest in the oil producing and chemical industry of Turkmenistan. If joint projects with the UAE are fulfilled, Ashkhabad will have an opportunity to decrease its dependence on China, which often imposes its own conditions on Turkmenistan in the gas sphere.
Experts do not rule out that if Ashkhabad and Abu Dhabi reach a compromise, by 2020 the presence of the UAE in the Caspian region may become significant. Today only one company from the Emirates is working in Turkmenistan – Dragon Oil. It provides works within the agreement on sharing products in the Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea. However, the State Minister of the UAE confirmed that the company was ready to extend its cooperation with Turkmenistan. According to experts, the presence of the UAE may become a turning point in the sphere of distribution of export flows of Turkmen gas. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber handed an invitation from the President of the UAE Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan to President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow to visit Abu Dhabi. The Turkmen leader replied to this: “The United Arab Emirates became my second home.”