Persistent long-term struggle of “Gazprom” against potential construction of Nabucco pipeline has failed. In Ankara the Heads of Turkish, Austrian, Hungarian, Bulgarian and Romanian Governments signed an intergovernmental agreement on the project of the gas pipeline that will deliver gas from Caspian region to Europe round Russia. Meanwhile Germany also engaged with this project didn’t put its sign under the agreement as it is not a transiting state.
Troubles reached to Moscow one after another. Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria are the partners of Russia within South Stream project. Intergovernmental agreements have been already signed with Hungary and Bulgaria. Austria hesitates, the longer the more. Almost a year ago the deputy head of “Gazprom” Aleksander Medvedev claimed that the agreement would be signed “as soon as possible”. However this has never happened. This issue was discussed during the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Vienna. And evidently the discussion wasn’t a success as Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Michael Spindelegger only stated that Austria still analyzed the possibility of participation within South Stream, considering the necessity to assess the prospects of the project accomplishment. Supposedly, Austrian company OMV had to become a coordinator of South Stream project. At the moment this company has already become one of the main participants of Nabucco project.
It’s interesting that future Prime Minister of Bulgaria Boyko Borisov, having received the respective mandate from the President Georgi Parvanov, before the finishing of new government after parliamentary elections of the 5th of July sent a letter to the acting Bulgarian Minister of Economy and Energy Petr Dimitrov. In this letter he demanded to stop all negotiations on conclusion of new agreement on natural gas supply from Russia to Bulgaria, on construction of Bulgarian part of South Stream gas pipeline and an NPP “Belene”. Although Russian experts think that new Government of Bulgaria will still be forced to join South Stream project, there are all reasons to suppose that the problem is not in an ordinary bargaining on the terms of supplies and profit sharing. The actions of new Bulgarian authorities perfectly match the fact that the agreement on South Stream wasn’t signed by one of the main potential participants - Italy. And this happened after smiles and mutual tapping on shoulders of Italian Prime Minister and Russian tandem in front of TV cameras during the visit of Silvio Berlusconi to Moscow. If Rome keeps silent then its silence is pretty sound and suggests corresponding ideas in Sophia as well as in Vienna. Moreover, Serbia the last ally of Russia in the Balkans will participate in Nabucco gas pipeline construction. General Director of the “Serbiagaz” company Dushan Bayatovich announced this during the interview for Belgrade paper “Politika” (“Policy”). After such a turn of Sophia the change of Belgrade priorities in the issue of gas cooperation with Russia seems clear and not that surprising.
As for resource basis for Nabucco, then multiple warnings of Russian experts and personally President Medvedev (during his visit to Germany) about its absence appeared to be a bit contrived and badly grounded. According to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan “at the first stage the pipeline will be filled with Azerbaijani gas. Later we plan to gain gas for Nabucco from Turkmenistan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and liquid gas to be delivered by tankers from Qatar”. From his side Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who came to Ankara for the signing ceremony, stated that his country was ready to give for the project 15 billion cubic meters of gas annually – this is almost a half of this pipeline project capacity. Although today Iraq produces about 6-8 billion cubic meters of gas a year, but production can be easily enhanced. The problem is in political stability of Iraq.
It’s evident that Nabucco project has many problems. In order for Turkmen gas to flow through Turkey to Europe, an East-West pipeline should be constructed, gas production should be enhanced up to 15-20 billion cubic meters a year, and a pipeline to Azerbaijan along Caspian Sea should be laid. These tasks are pretty soluble in a short term prospect. In addition Nabucco has another great potential gas supplier – Iran, that is ready to supply 15-20 billion cubic meters of gas. At the moment the EU and the USA are against it, but current President of the country Ahmadinejad won’t occupy this position forever and his martial rhetoric will have its end. At least recently he has declared that Iran develops new offers on regulation of its relations with Europe and the USA. Difficult economic situation of Iran forces its leaders to be more pragmatic.
Nabucco project has a reasonable geopolitical context. Although it will cover up to 10% of European demand in gas, only its existence and successful operation will substantially change the balance of forces in Central Asia and South Caucasus. On the eve of agreement signing in Ankara Ashgabat agreed with Teheran on extension of Turkmen gas export from 8 to 14 billion cubic meters. For this reason in the Eastern part of the country by the end of the year a new gas pipeline to the border with Iran will be constructed. In the fourth quarter of 2009 additional gas supplies through this pipeline will start. A pipeline to China is in the process of construction with capacity of about 30 billion cubic meters of gas annually. There is information that Uzbekistan is also interested to supply gas through Turkmenistan for Nabucco, although it doesn’t have yet the required export stocks. High-ranking officials of Kazakhstan pointed clearly that their country is pretty involved into participation in this very profitable project. And this means that attempts of Moscow to maintain the leading positions in Turkmen gas transit have failed. In the end, it may turn out that Turkmenistan as well as Kazakhstan will have no gas to supply to Russia.
And this will change the policy of Ashgabat significantly, as in this case it gains more political freedom for maneuvers. The absence of rigid necessity for Turkmenistan to look back on Russia as on the single buyer and transporter of gas will inevitably affect total policy of Central Asia in relation to all of its states. Moscow has already come across Europe and America struggling for this region. Now Beijing joined this fight and this makes the task much more complicated.
China purchases assets of oil and gas companies in Kazakhstan. Respectively, this influences the policy of Astana that maneuvers brilliantly between Moscow, Washington and Beijing. Four states of Central Asia: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, each escapes the influence of Moscow more or less. Kyrgyzstan still remains under its influence only due to internal problems of the country. But this is temporally. Even in these conditions Bishkek refused to shutdown American military base in Manace.
It’s demonstrative that traditional horse race for the prize of Russian President that in practice turned into unofficial Summit of CIS-states Leaders, this year was held without presidents of Ukraine, Belarus, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Gas played an important role while deciding on visiting Moscow for all of them.
Moscow reacted on Nabucco agreement signing as usual. President Medvedev paid a short-term visit to South Ossetia. It appears that this visit was planned on the beginning of August on the first anniversary of the start of war with Georgia, but the trip had to be speed up. Naturally, it provoked sharp reaction from Mikheil Saakashvili, who then was in Ankara on the ceremony of signing. Obviously, Moscow wanted to show that Nabucco pipeline lies pretty close to Russian military troops locations, so that Russia still is able somehow to influence the developments of the situation and everybody should remember this. And they don’t. American warship arrived to Batumi to participate in joint maneuvers with Georgian army and navy. This was a specific afterword for the visit of Obama to Russia. The both capitals clearly crossed the borders beyond which there are no lands for them. That is why the visit of Medvedev will hardly slow down Nabucco accomplishment.
Although this project also lies round Ukraine, nevertheless, it still has a possibility to join the project with a profit for the country. The paper “Ekonomicheskie Izvestiya” (“Economic News”) wrote: “Under the offer of Nabucco Gas Pipeline International GmbH Board of Directors, Ukraine can become a Nabucco participant only provided NAK “Naftogaz Ukrainy” has contracted gas to transport through the gas pipeline to European states, also to Ukraine (the scheme of substitution)”. This kind of participation of Kiev in a principally significant project would absolutely change the role of Ukraine as a transiting state and would let to diversify gas supply sources. Positive political results of Nabucco Gas Pipeline International offers for Ukraine are clear. Moscow perfectly understands that in comparison with Kiev. Judging by the speech of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko during the meeting of the Party “Batkivschina” (“Motherland”), her Cabinet has other ideas and priorities. During Presidential pre-election campaign everybody look back on Northern neighbor. And time is running. No one will wait for Ukraine because of its internal problems and political helplessness of ruling class. There are other states striving to take its place. As people say time flies to fast to catch it.
Translated from Den