Why did Russia, which had been opposing the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline construction for 15 years, shift ground? After all, Turkmenistan still remains a potential competitor to Russia in the European gas market, an article published by the Azerbaijani news agency Trend says.
As the article writer Azer Ahmadbayli notes, when in December 2017, a draft convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea was approved, a “green light” was given for Turkmen gas exports to Europe through the projected Trans-Caspian gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan.
In late June, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the draft convention, which is going to be signed by all the coastal states in early August. The article writer highlights a number of factors that, in his opinion, might cause the change in Russia's stance regarding the project.
First, this is supposedly an agreement with the European Union, which supported Turkmenistan’s infrastructure project. In late March, the European Commission said that there was no legal reason to block the construction of the Russian gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, which means abandoning attempts to impede the project’s implementation.
The Nord Stream 2 construction is clearly to the benefit of Russia, while the European Union, in its turn, gets another source of gas supplies bypassing Russia, Ahmadbayli writes. Perhaps the stakes were completely different, he specifies, but the fact is that the two long-discussed energy projects have simultaneously got off the ground.
The second factor is Iran, which, with its huge gas reserves, is perhaps Russia’s key competitor. And it is this state that can have a real impact on reducing Europe's energy dependence on Russia. Who knows what will be like the international situation tomorrow and how will Iran's relations with the West develop? While any dialogue with Iran has always been a difficult matter, Turkmenistan is a much more convenient negotiator for Russia, Ahmadbayli said.
The third factor is China, where coal consumption is expected to reduce in the next decade in favor of natural gas. In this situation, China will need more gas from Turkmenistan, something that is clearly not in interests of Russia, which is going to supply its gas to China via the pipeline under construction across Siberia.
Russia has realized that if Turkmenistan — the world's fourth largest country with natural gas reserves — turns into a Chinese raw material base, this will negatively influence the amount and price of Russian gas to China planned to be supplied through the “Power of Siberia” pipeline. While signing the Convention on the Caspian Sea legal status does not imply that building the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline will be launched soon. There are still many pending issues and all of them require time and careful examination.