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Turkmenistan Grabs Energy Spotlight As Caspian Leaders Gather

  • Bruce Pannier

Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov

Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov

The presidents of Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkmenistan, and host Kazakhstan are continuing two days of informal talks in hopes of moving forward on the eventual allocation of the Caspian Sea's rich oil and gas resources.

There was no agenda announced for the talks, which are taking place in Kazakhstan's Caspian resort of Kenderly, near the port city of Aktau.

The Caspian littoral states -- which also include Iran -- have long haggled over the status of the Caspian Sea with an eye to exploiting its vast hydrocarbon deposits.

Without any set agenda, there was little information emerging and it was unclear whether participants expected to issue any formal conclusions from the Kazakh meeting.

But while there was silence in Kazakhstan, there was energy news coming out of neighboring Turkmenistan.

Turkmen media released a statement from President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who is in Kenderly, emphasizing his country's commitment to a diversification of natural-gas export routes.

'Bright' Turkmen Future

Berdymukhammedov's statement cited the "bright future" of pipeline projects to export Turkmen gas. A pipeline to China is due to start operating at the end of this year. It should eventually pump some 40 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas annually. The Turkmen president also mentioned a proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project that would export slightly less gas (some 27-33 bcm annually).

Berdymukhammedov added that Turkmenistan, with the fourth-largest gas reserves in the world, has sufficient reserves to supply the European Union-backed Nabucco pipeline project (31 bcm annually).

But Berdymukhammedov avoided mention of gas supplies to Russia or of plans to repair a gas pipeline linking the two countries that was damaged by an explosion in April.

The Turkmen government has blamed Russia for the explosion, which happened as Russia's Gazprom was pressing Turkmenistan to lower the price for its gas supplies. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was due to travel after the talks to Turkmenistan, where he would have more opportunity to address bilateral issues.

The Pri-Caspian pipeline project -- planned to bring Turkmen, Kazakh, and Uzbek gas to Russia via a pipeline along the northeastern Caspian coast -- was also notable for its absence from Berdymukhammedov's statement. All four countries agreed to that project in 2007, but there has been little movement of late aside from Kazakhstan's pledge on September 11 that it would start laying sections of that pipeline in 2010.

The Turkmen statement was released to mark the "Day of Oil, Gas, Electrical Workers and Geologists" in that country.

But the fact that it coincided with the Caspian talks suggests it was an effort to give the Turkmen president extra leverage in talks with his three counterparts at the summit.

Of the three projects mentioned by Berdymukhammedov's office, only the Western-backed Nabucco project would involve any of the other three countries represented in Kazakhstan (Azerbaijan via a yet-to-be-built trans-Caspian pipeline).

Excluding Iran

The leaders had said in their opening statements that no major decisions on use of the Caspian would be made in the absence of the only littoral state not in attendance, Iran.

Tehran was not invited to the talks and complained bitterly this week about its exclusion.

Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, suggested there are many topics that the four leaders from Caspian states also allied within the CIS can discuss more effectively without non-member Iran.

Russian President Medvedev praised Azerbaijan's preparations for a formal Caspian summit in Baku, but there was no word of a date for that gathering.
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