Will Berdimukhamedov attend opening of TANAP?
On June 12, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov is expected to attend the opening of the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP), which will bring Azerbaijani gas to Europe. Turkmenistan is considered as the second participant of the TANAP project. It rests with Ashgabat to decide. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during a telephone conversation, invited Berdimukhamedov to take part in the ceremony of launching the TANAP gas pipeline. The Turkmen leader accepted the invitation, but, according to the Turkmenistan State News Agency, "the issue of his participation in the event will be considered in the appropriate order through diplomatic channels."
Experts believe that such a wording is Berdimukhamedov's polite refusal to visit Turkey. "There are two reasons for Berdimukhamedov not to attend the opening of TANAP," the chairman of the board of the Compatriot Russian-Turkmen Friendship Society, Maksat Saparmuradov, said: "First, Berdimuhamedov has nothing to offer to Ankara and Baku. The Trans-Caspian pipeline will not be built, even if the Convention on the status of the Caspian Sea is signed. Iran and Russia will prevent the construction of a pipeline on the bottom of the reservoir. Why should Russia create a competitor for itself? Although TANAP is not a competitor to Russian gas and, under certain conditions, they may agree. The issue lies in the political arena. This is a border issue. President Berdimukhamedov does not give Russia the opportunity to close the Afghan border where big problems are brewing. Iran suggests an interesting option: swap Turkmen gas not only to TANAP but also to Pakistan,if Ashgabat refuses to build the TAPI gas pipeline (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India)."
The second reason, according to Saparmuradov, is the financial crisis, which has intensified since the start in 2016. The dollar exchange rate on the "black market" hit another record. Today, the Turkmen manat exchange rates against the US dollar is 29-30. At the same time, the official rate is set at 3.5 manat. A number of foreign companies, most of which are Turkish, are not able to get their money. The IMF suggested that Ashgabat devalue the national currency.
TANAP has the annual capacity of 16 billion cubic meters of Azerbaijani gas per year. This amount is not enough to ensure energy independence of Europe. Therefore, it was initially assumed that in addition to Azerbaijani gas, TANAP and the Southern Gas Corridor will also pump Turkmen, Iranian, Iraqi and even Kazakh gas - the total of 31 billion cubic meters gas per year.
Brussels has been negotiating with Ashkhabad over the past few years. After stopping gas supplies to Russia, Turkmenistan announced its readiness to export up to 40 billion cubic meters of gas per year to Europe. For these purposes, it independently built the East-West gas pipeline, which connects the South Yolotan-Osman field with the Caspian coast.
The head of the club of political scientists 'South Caucasus', Ilgar Velizde, believes that the situation is close to its denouement. "The summit of the heads of the Caspian states is expected in late summer, early autumn. The Caspian states are conducting preparatory work, so the issue of the transit gas pipeline will find its solution in the Convention. Turkmenistan will have free hands in this case," Velizade told Vestnik Kavkaza. He noted that according to the draft Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, the Caspian states will recognize the sovereignty, exclusive rights and jurisdiction of each other, which means that after signing the convention Ashgabat will need to negotiate only with Baku and Tehran.
Azerbaijan has both political will and technical capabilities for transporting Turkmen gas through the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) to Europe, Azerbaijan's Minister of Energy Parviz Shahbazov told CBC. "Turkmenistan has shown interest in the SGC, Azerbaijan, for its part, has already declared its readiness to cooperate with Ashgabat in this direction. We have both technical capabilities and political will to carry out such supplies. So, if Turkmenistan decides to undertake concrete steps in this direction, then it is quite possible, and we are ready for cooperation," the Azerbaijani minister said.
As for the Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Iran triangle, according to the member of the «Iran-East» (Iran) Central Asian and Afghan Studies Institute's Scientific Council, political scientist Igor Pankratenko, there is a swap mechanism. "It is conditioned not only and not so much by the gas deficit of the parties, but by pipelines' routes. For example, it would be cheaper for Tehran to buy gas in Turkmenistan to supply a number of its provinces than to drive it across Iran. As for TANAP, this issue is considered in a broader sense - it's about Ashgabat's direct participation in filling the Southern Gas Corridor, without including Iran in this scheme," Pankratenko told Vestnik Kavkaza.
As for the talks about Iran's participation in TANAP and the Southern Gas Corridor in general, according to the expert, two circumstances should be taken into account here. First, Washington started an economic war against Tehran, closing the world oil markets for it not to allow it to export natural gas with the other hand. Second, and the most important, being one of the largest gas powers in the world, Iran does not have sufficient volumes for serious gas imports. This scenario has many factors - starting from the huge internal consumption to purely technical aspects. "Iran is not capable of acting as a serious importer today. Of course, it has certain volumes for external supplies, but they are not able to seriously affect world markets," Pankratenko believes.