The Great Game on a razor’s edge

Read first some others of his articles:

And this following article: The Great Game on a razor’s edge, by M.K.Bhadrakumar, Jan, 3, 2007 on World Security Network:

Excerpt: … In 2006, the US and Turkey revived the 10-year-old idea of a trans-Caspian gas pipeline project (as part of the so-called East-West Energy Corridor) to supply Turkmen gas to Europe via Turkey. Turkmenistan’s gas output may well approach 80bcm annually at present. The trans-Caspian pipeline envisages an annual draw of 16bcm from the Turkmen output in the first stage, to be expanded to 32bcm in the second stage. In the US geostrategy, the project is vital for reducing Europe’s heavy dependence on Russian energy supplies. Niyazov had prevaricated in the light of Moscow’s opposition. But what will be the outlook of Niyazov’s successor?

Russia, on the contrary, will insist on the fulfillment of its April 2003 framework agreement with Turkmenistan, which provides for a 25-year contract on gas supplies to Russia, with Ashgabat pledging to supply 100bcm per year of gas from 2010 onward (a total of 2 trillion cubic meters cumulatively over the 25-year period). Moscow now seeks to tap even more deeply into Turkmenistan’s gas reserves for meeting Russia’s domestic needs and for re-export to Europe as “Russian gas”.

Meanwhile, Turkmenistan also stands committed to supply 8-10bcm of gas to Iran’s northern region, apart from occasionally voicing interest in the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline project. China, on its part, entered an agreement with Niyazov in April for purchase of 30bcm of Turkmen gas annually from 2009 onward for a 30-year period, and jointly to explore and develop Turkmen gas deposits on the right bank of Amu Darya River.

Besides challenging Russia’s monopoly control of Turkmen gas hitherto, China has also undercut the Russian practice of buying cheap Turkmen gas, by agreeing that China will pay a price “set at reasonable levels, and on a fair basis, pegged on comparable international market price”. At the same time, China’s deal also threatens the West, which will be a strategic loser if Turkmenistan decides to send its gas eastward instead of Europe.

The European Union’s 3,400-kilometer Nabucco gas pipeline from eastern Turkey to Austria and central Europe at an estimated cost of $5.8 billion, to be commissioned in 2010, will be a net sufferer in that case, as it is predicated on the expectation that Turkmenistan can be a key supplier country.

Niyazov was always an enigmatic figure on the Central Asian political chessboard. But the biggest puzzle he has left behind was no doubt his chance remark shortly before his death in a conversation with visiting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Ashgabat that Turkmenistan recently discovered a super-giant gas field, South Iolotansk, with proven reserves of 7 trillion cubic meters of gas.

Like Corporal Hatfield in his sentry post in Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan, Niyazov didn’t probably realize what a maelstrom he was creating. If South Iolotansk indeed holds such untold treasures, the impact on the energy map of Russia, Europe and China will be dramatic. And certainly, the center of gravity of the Great Game will overnight shift eastward to the home of the fabled Ahalteke race horse – away from the SCO and all that. Central Asia, then, may never be the same again.

(Written by M. K. Bhadrakumar. He served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for more than 29 years. Read the whole long article on Asia Times Online Ltd.).

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