Turkic solidarity in energy economics

Turkic solidarity in energy economics

Victoria Panfilova, an observer of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, exclusively for Vestnik Kavkaza

A meeting of the presidents of Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey will take place this year. A decision on holding the summit was made during the trilateral talks between foreign ministers on January 29th in Ashkhabad. The foreign ministers paid special attention to fulfillment of energy projects (the issue will be included on the agenda of the summit of presidents), which are important not only for the region, but also for Europe. 

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov conducted bilateral talks with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Turkey.

The foreign ministers of the three countries met last in Baku, when the Baku declaration was signed. Yesterday they discussed questions of regional cooperation, including transport and energy projects, and signed the Ashkhabad declaration. 

According to the Foreign Minister of Turkey, Movlut Chavushoglu, “the joint activities of three countries are very important.”

There are plans for transportation of Turkmen gas to Turkey and then to Europe through TANAP; its construction has already been started. The first steps have been made in this direction – the Turkmengaz National Concern and the Atagaz company signed a framework agreement on buying and selling natural gas.

In the early 2000s the project of Nabucco for transportation of Iranian gas through Turkey to Europe was raised. Later the US and Europe launched sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program, while Nabucco was reoriented to Azerbaijani gas from the Shakh Deniz field. Turkey and Azerbaijan decided to build their own pipeline TANAP together with the Shakh Deniz Consortium headed by BP through Turkey to Bulgaria. Nabucco was downsized and began to be considered as a European part of TANAP from Bulgaria to Austria. However, another project appeared in Europe, which was created as a continuation of TANAP – TAP through Greece to Southern Italy. The Shakh Deniz Consortium chose TAP and rejected Nabucco. TANAP is thought to be finished by 2019. And if Europe rejects Russian gas exporst, Turkmen gas can replace it.

However, several unsettled issues prevent full-scale energy cooperation. “First of all, there is a territorial dispute over possession of gas fields in the Caspian Sea, as well as the construction of the pipeline across the Caspian Sea, in which the European side is interested. The West, primarily Europe, has been lobbying the project for a long time. Russia and Iran stand against the project. They adduce juridical arguments which are connected with the unsettled status of the Caspian Sea, as well as ecological arguments,” Andrei Kazantsev, the director of the Analytical Center of MGIMO, told Vestnik Kavkaza. He thinks that building energy relations between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan is a message about the possible intensification of talks on construction of the Transcaspian pipeline.

The expert also notes that, due to the conflict in Ukraine, gas supplies from Russia to Europe are becoming more and more troublesome. Remembering Russia’s rejection of the South Stream and other disputes between Russia and Europe on gas, it becomes clear that Europe is interested in construction of a gas pipeline though the Caspian Sea, as Turkmen gas resources are not demanded by Europe today, while Turkmenistan has extra volumes of gas,” Kazantsev said.

Political scientist Arkady Dubnov, a Russian expert on Central Asia, has a different view: “I don’t think that transportation of Turkmen gas to Turkey through Azerbaijan can be considered seriously. At first we should reconcile Baku and Ashkhabad to the disputable issues of oil fields in the Caspian Sea, so that they could find the formula honorable, if not profitable.” Considering the demonstrative absence of interest of the USA in TANAP and the obvious support of the TAPI project by Washington, it is difficult to imagine that the Turkish project will be fulfilled in reality, at least in the current geopolitical situation, the expert thinks.

“However, the visit by the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan to Ashkhabad is important from an image point of view for Ashkhabad, which is interested in normalization of relations with Baku. Apparently, Turkey is lobbying the trilateral Turkic alliance with its closest neighbors. I think today, ahead of the 100th anniversary of “the Armenian genocide” in the Ottoman Empire, Turkic solidarity is very important for Ankara to resist the wide-scale international campaign devoted to the sad date,” Dubnov said.

Meanwhile, according to Anna Demchenko, an MSU expert, “the Russian-Turkish project on turning Turkey into a major oil and gas hub opens up big opportunities for the strengthening of cooperation between Russia and Turkey, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. We cannot exclude the cooperation of these four countries in the Caspian pipeline in the future. Russia could think about transportation of its oil through this pipeline. Today experts of these four countries are discussing the major project of energy cooperation. Speaking about the construction of pipelines, I don’t see a problem in it. There are pipelines on the bottom of the Baltic and Black Seas.”