Astana (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Russian President Vladimir Putin today met Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev to discuss energy and politics. Both travelled on Thursday to Turkmenistan to meet Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov for a tripartite summit to discuss energy co-operation.
In Astana, Putin and Nazarbayev signed an agreement setting up a joint uranium enrichment centre in Siberia. News reports say the centre will be open to other countries like Iran that want to process nuclear fuel for peaceful energy production.
Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan hold the largest oil and gas fields in Central Asia. The West and China are courting their favour but Russia is bent on retain control over the region’s energy.
Russia's is pushing the idea of a new pipeline which will carry Turkmen gas across Kazakh and Russian territory to Europe. The United States and other countries would like instead to see a trans-Caspian gas pipeline that would reach Azerbaijan.
Turkmenistan's leader, who was elected in December, has not yet indicated whether he wants to strengthen ties with Russia or pursue other directions. Last week, he granted US oil giant Chevron access to the Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea. It is the first US and the third foreign oil company with a foot in Turkmen oil fields.
Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, has taken a leading role in the region and is playing a bigger role on the international scene. He has been a close ally of Moscow, but his country already sends a significant amount of oil by ship across the Caspian to Azerbaijan, for transportation along the one major route that bypasses Russia, the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline.
The United States is the biggest source of foreign direct investment in Kazakhstan, followed by Britain and Japan.
Although Russia has vast resources of both natural gas and oil, it may soon be facing domestic shortages because so much of its own resources are in remote areas and need heavy investment to be productive. Central Asia is, therefore, a vital source of energy for Russia as well. (PB)