Turkmenistan cuts a window to Europe for China
Victoria Panfilova, columnist of "Nezavisimaya Gazeta", especially for Vestnik Kavkaza
Ashgabat has opened a new transport route that will connect East and West. And if for Turkmenistan it is not yet possible to break into the western market in the energy field, in the transport sector it has much more obvious successes. China today is also showing interest in this area.
After the launch of the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran railway, Ashgabat is ready to join the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars transport corridor. These arteries connect several important regions and markets. The exit to Azerbaijan will be provided by a shipping lane across the Caspian Sea. Recently a Turkmen ferry Berkarar type RO-PAX first arrived at Baku International Sea Port, intended for the carriage of passengers, freight and other large cargo. As the Ambassador of Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan Toyly Komekov noted, regular ferry runs will significantly reduce the time of delivery of goods from Europe to Central Asia and the Middle East. The second ship of the same Bagtyyar class, built for Ashgabat at the Croatian shipyards of Pula city, will arrive at its home port already this year. Batgyyar is the sixteenth modern ship to arrive in the country over the past 5 years.
"For Turkmenistan it is one of the outlets in Europe in addition to the existing ones through Russia," a leading researcher of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Historical Sciences Shohrat Kadyrov, told Vestnik Kavkaza. Ashgabat thus becomes active in its multi-vector politics. Russia remains the largest trading partner of Turkmenistan. Trade turnover between them in the past year reached $5 billion. This, however, does not prevent the Central Asian country from developing relations, for instance with South Korea. South Korean companies in Turkmenistan are carrying out nine projects worth $5.5 billion. Ashgabat and Seoul this year signed another agreement for $4 billion on the construction of gas-processing plants. Another example is China's CNPC, which has invested $4 billion in the commercial development of the gas-rich contractual territory of Bagtyyarlyk in the south of the country.
Turkmenistan shows special activity in the international energy market. This activity to some extent is forced on it, as in 2009 Russia reduced its imports of Turkmen gas from 60 billion cubic meters of gas to 12 billion cubic meters. Right after that Ashgabat began to look for new partners for gas exports. One of them became China, receiving 40 billion cubic meters of gas, and ready to double this amount. Simultaneously, Ashgabat carries out negotiations about exporting gas to European countries. Note that in terms of proven natural gas volumes (17.5 trillion cubic meters), Turkmenistan ranks fourth in the world. However, to enter the European market is not yet possible for the country for several reasons, one of which is that the status of the Caspian Sea is still not certain. The construction of a pipeline on the bottom of the body of water requires the consent of all Caspian countries, and reaching a consensus still remains elusive.
Nevertheless, negotiations between Ashgabat and Brussels continue, and taking into account the protracted crisis in Ukraine, the chances of their productivity are increasing. Recall that the EU has developed a comprehensive strategy for energy security, which is in reducing the EU's dependence on energy suppliers, primarily on Russia. In this case, in terms of diversification of sources, the Old World is betting on Caspian gas. Its suppliers should be Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. With this in mind, experts believe that the chances of Ashgabat entering the European energy market are quite large.
"There is one significant nuance, which consists of the fact that at the moment Ashgabat has de facto become a conductor of China's interests. These interests have been known to go far beyond the Caspian region, extending to the Caucasus and Europe. It is in the context of this circumstance that the Turkmen side is developing its fleet in the Caspian Sea. Everyone, including military support, passenger transport and the tanker fleet, is working on an ambitious project on restoring the Great Silk Road. There are no other military or geopolitical goals in the projects of development of the Turkmen fleet or rather, they are of secondary value," says Shohrat Kadyrov. This project, according to his words, is under the auspices of the UN and is also in the strategic interests of the United States. At the same time, Kadyrov stressed that the ultimate goal of the project is to create a single transport corridor linking the Chinese port of Lianyungang by the railways of China and Kazakhstan and the ferry route Aktau-Port Alat with the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway and Europe.
And here it should be emphasized that against the background of all these "community plans", first of all, is Beijing. China is preparing to build the South Caucasus sustainable economic base, from which in the future expansion of Chinese goods, investment and labor can be performed in the European direction. That is why, seeking to improve their competitiveness in the region, where there are traditionally strong positions of other global players such as Russia, the US and Europe, China is beginning to invest in major transport projects in the region.