A few weeks ago, Russia’s state-run Gazprom announced it would sharply and immediately cut the amount of gas it purchases from Turkmenistan. Now Turkmenistan’s authoritarian government has responded with a rare outburst. Unfortunately for Ashgabat, these days there’s not much it can do but screech.
Russia is an “unreliable partner,” a think-tank inside Turkmenistan’s own state energy company, Turkmengaz, said in a February 16 rant published on its website.
The article – “Will Gas Exports of Turkmen Gas to Russia Recover?” – criticizes Russia and Gazprom for all of the unhappiest moments in an up-and-down relationship that has seen deliveries of Turkmen gas to Russia drop from a peak of around 45 billion cubic meters per year (bcm) in 2008 to the 4 bcm the Russian giant says it will now import in 2015.
The piece expressed outrage at Gazprom’s failure to fulfill a 2008 agreement to build a Trans-Caspian pipeline and fingered Gazprom for an unexplained pipeline explosion in April 2009 that marked the beginning of the decline in its purchases.
Gazprom and its affiliates “periodically violate agreements at interstate, intergovernmental and interdepartmental levels,” the article notes.
The tone of the piece suggests Gazprom Vice Chairman Alexander Medvedev was exaggerating a bit when he said on February 3 that the decision to cut imports by more than 60 percent was made with Ashgabat’s blessing.
Turkmenistan appears to be struggling with depressed prices for the hydrocarbon’s it depends on for 90 percent of exports. The Central Bank devalued its manat by almost a fifth overnight on January 1. And in a rare moment of outreach to his cowed population, earlier this month strongman President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov promised “anti-crisis measures.”
Turkmenistan’s gas exports to number-one customer China are predicted to reach 65 bcm by 2020, almost double their current volume. But China’s buying price is reportedly tied to the low global oil price and some gas revenues are being used to pay Beijing back for constructing the pipeline. So Berdymukhamedov may have to do some belt-tightening in the short-term.