Turkmenistan is looking south, not west, to realize its pipe dreams.
Speaking at an annual oil and gas conference in Ashgabat last week, Turkmen officials spent a lot of time praising the proposed TAPI pipeline to south Asia. They reportedly did so at the expense of plans to construct a pipeline to export Turkmenistan’s vast gas reserves to Europe.
TAPI – named for the four countries it would cross: Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India – is “regarded with suspicion as a wildly ambitious pipedream by some analysts,” AFP said, especially because it would traverse war-torn Afghanistan. Ashgabat signed onto the project at the urging of the Asian Development Bank and Washington in May. In 2008, it was estimated to cost $7.8 billion.
Turkmen officials “took every opportunity to talk up the pipeline while showing less interest in a similar project that would transport gas across the Caspian” to Europe, AFP reported:
“The realization of the TAPI pipeline project will allow an increase in exports of Turkmen gas,” President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was quoted as saying in a formal statement for the conference.
Sakhatmurad Mamedov, head of the state-owned company Turkmengaz, announced that the project had been ‘successfully pushed forward’ in roadshows held in September with potential investors in Singapore, New York and London. “The realization of the TAPI project will give an impulse to the development of the countries taking part in the project and will also strengthen stability in the region as well as creating new jobs,” he said.
The 1,700-kilometre pipeline aims to transport more than 30 billion cubic meters of gas annually from Turkmenistan to consumers in Pakistan and India and relieve shortages in Afghanistan.
Turkmenistan in May inked sale-purchase agreements with India and Pakistan for the yet-to-be-built pipeline in a move hailed by the United States as a boost for regional integration.
The western-bound TransCaspian pipeline, which would link-up with European-bound pipelines in Azerbaijan, on the other hand, looks like it’s fallen out of favor with Turkmen officials.
Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and the EU are continuing to negotiate an agreement for construction of a TransCaspian pipeline for exports of Turkmen gas to Europe and the EU’s special representative for Central Asia Patricia Flor urged an acceleration of progress.
She said it would be better to sign long term contracts now than in five years time and there was no need to “excessively drag out the talks.”
Yet discussion of the TransCaspian pipeline, a project that would be a rival for Russia’s South Stream, was absent from the speeches of Turkmen officials, in contrast to their enthusiasm for the TAPI project.
Just a year ago, at the same conference, Berdymukhamedov appeared to enthusiastically support the TransCaspian. He said pipelines to Europe are “among the most important goals of Turkmenistan’s energy policy” and being "actively developed.”
Moscow has sought to stall the TransCaspian project by insisting it has veto rights to Caspian Sea projects as a littoral state. (Russia has also long been a major impediment to Caspian delimitation.) The US also supports the TransCaspian pipeline.
The top American official at the conference, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Lynne Tracy, said that no other country besides Turkmenistan or Azerbaijan should have veto power over the project.