Caspian Convention challenges Gazprom's rule in Europe

On August 12, when the leaders of Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan put their signatures on the Convention on the Legal Statue of the Caspian Sea at a historical meeting in Aktau (Kazakhstan), experts could not find a definitive answer to the question of whether Russia and Iran would still object to the construction of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline between the Turkmen port of Turkmenbashi and the capital of Azerbaijan along the bottom of the Caspian Sea.

Russia and Iran had long objected to the construction of the pipeline from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan making references to uncertainties in the legal status of the Caspian Sea, even though the pipeline was to be built in Turkmen and Azerbaijani sectors of the  sea. On Monday, August 13, when the Kremlin published the full text of the Caspian Convention on its official website, it became absolutely clear that there were no obstacles left for the construction of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline.

Therefore, natural gas from Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan can be transported along the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP) through Georgia and Turkey to Greece, where it links with the Trans Adriatic gas pipeline (TAP) to South Europe.

Article 14 of the Caspian Convention reads: "The Parties may lay submarine cables and pipelines on the bed of the Caspian Sea. ... Submarine cables and pipelines routes shall be determined by agreement with the Party the seabed sector of which is to be crossed by the cable or pipeline."

As we can see, it is only formal reasons that may impede the construction of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline. The article also says that projects of the parties should "comply with environmental standards and requirements embodied in the international agreements to which they are parties, including the Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea and its relevant protocols.

In accordance with the additional protocol to the Caspian Convention, all five littoral countries should give their opinion about the compliance of the Trans-Caspian pipeline with environmental safety requirements within six months.

However, experts in Baku and Ashgabat, whom Pravda.Ru interviewed, agree that Russia and Iran can not obstruct the construction of the pipeline. Moscow and Teheran only have the right to require compliance with environmental safety measures during the construction of the pipeline. In a nutshell, Moscow and Tehran will only provide opinions, rather than permissions. If the construction of any pipeline along the Caspian seabed were banned, the Caspian Convention would not have a provision on the right of the littoral countries to lay pipelines within their sectors of the sea.

Most Russian experts are skeptical about the ability of Turkmenistan to fill the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline with Turkmen gas. In 2017, Turkmenistan failed to increase gas exports to China. Therefore, it is believed that Turkmenistan can not become a competitor to Russia's Gazprom on the European market. However, experts of the Turkmen government are confident that Turkmenistan will be able to add 14 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas to 16 billion cubic meters of gas that Azerbaijan will soon export via the Southern Gas Corridor to Europe provided that the Trans-Caspian pipeline is launched.

It is worthy of note that Turkmenistan is one of the four counties of the world that have largest reserves of natural gas. British auditing company Gaffney, Cline&Associates estimated the reserves of Turkmen deposits of Galkynysh and Yashlar at 26.2 trillion cubic meters.

At present, the European Union, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan hold trilateral talks about the beginning of the construction of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline. Azerbaijan will play the role of a transit country in the project and is not going to support it financially.

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan would like to join the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline some time in the future. In May 2007, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan agreed, along with Turkmenistan, to export their gas to Russia along the Caspian gas pipeline. However, the project remained on paper. Moscow believes that the countries of Central Asia refused to implement the project due to the pressure from Washington and Brussels.

Now Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan evince their interest in exporting their natural gas to world markets through the Southern Gas Corridor. The Trans-Caspian gas pipeline can thus increase gas exports from the countries of Central Asia and Azerbaijan and put competitive pressure on Gazprom's reign on the European market of "blue fuel."

Photo credits:

Aidyn Mehtiev

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Author`s name Aidyn Mehtiyev