Turkmen gas to flow to no-Russian shores

Just few people believed that such an important event would actually happen, but yesterday Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf signed an agreement on construction of a gas pipeline from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean, to the Pakistani port of Gawadar. This event touches Russia’s economic and political interests. The gas is supposed to be delivered to Afghanistan, Pakistan and probably India. Work on the project for pipeline construction was completed this week in Islamabad after negotiations of oil and gas ministers from the three countries. The pipeline is to be 1,500 km long, the construction will cost $2 billion.

Spokesmen for the Afghani administration said before the summit, the planned gas pipeline is designed to recover economy of the country: expected revenues may make up about $100 million a year. Unocal, American oil company, started development of the project at the end of the 1990s, but the work suspended in 1998 because of Taliban – NATO clashes on Afghanistan territory. However, as soon as the Taliban regime was overthrown, the pipeline project was resumed, and now it is likely to be realized.

Still, there are some problems to be solved. No doubt, the gas pipeline can be constructed within really very short terms, even regardless of the mountainous relief of Afghanistan. But what is the way to guarantee security of the pipeline? Today’s Afghani government has got control over Kabul and several small regions only. In other words, it has control over those areas where the US, British and other contingents are present. Is it supposed that the US army will guard the pipeline? In fact, this is hardly likely.

It is to be mentioned here as well that India and Pakistan are on the verge of a conflict. It is not ruled out that nuclear weapons can be used if armed clashes occur. On the other hand, leaders of the three states admit that gas can be also delivered to India. Probably, it is their contribution in settlement of the India – Pakistan conflict. And what is Russia’s role in the project?

In 1996 Russia’s gas monopolist Gazprom had planned to buy 15% of the project’s share, but later gave up the idea. The president of Turkmenistan seems to be interested in Gazprom’s participation in the project. That is why Saparmurat Niyazov recently offered Gazprom to join the project. No official information has been published yet as for Gazprom’s intention as concerning the offer. However, there is another point of view on the problem.

Saparmurat Niyazov visited Moscow in January, where it was suggested that an OPEC-like oil and gas alliance could be created with participation of Russia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The Turkmenistan president approved of the idea. If work on creation of the alliance already started, then no considerable results have been achieved yet by this moment.

Does Gazprom want to participate in construction of a gas pipeline via Afghanistan? On the one hand, the project seems to be unprofitable for Russia, because great part of Turkmenistan gas is to be exported by-passing Russian gas pipelines. But on the other hand, as far as Russia’s Government is interested in development of international projects (with Russia’s participation, certainly), Gazprom is naturally to be interested in realization of the project. Highly qualified personnel of the gas monopolist can be of great use in the project, and can bring considerable profit to the company.

On the whole, future of the project is undecided yet. Although an agreement on gas pipeline construction is already signed, this does not mean at all that the project is to be realized within nearest time. All parties involved need to settle not only technical details of the project (that is the easiest thing in the case), but also economic and, what is really very important, political problems concerning construction of the pipeline.

Vasily Bubnov PRAVDA.Ru

Translated by Maria Gousseva

Read the original in Russian: http://www.pravda.ru/main/2002/05/31/42056.html

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