05/14/2007, 00.00
RUSSIA – CENTRAL ASIA
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Putin tightens control over Central Asian energy

Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan agree to build new pipelines to carry Turkmen gas through Russia. European hopes for a pipeline under the Caspian Sea are dashed. Turkmen president tries to be reassuring saying that he is studying other routes as well. For experts, China is Russia’s main rival in the area.

Moscow (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A new pipeline will reach Russia running from Turkmenistan through Kazakhstan around the Caspian Sea. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced after a meeting with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi.

Putin travelled to the Caspian port of Aktau in Turkmenistan on Sunday for further talks with Nazarbayev before flying back to Moscow on Tuesday.

The announcement was made on Saturday. A triumphant Putin said that the treaty finalising the agreement would be signed before September (probably in July) and construction could begin within one year. Initially, the new pipeline will deliver 10 billion cubic meters of gas per year by 2009-2010.

The three presidents also agreed to expand the capacity of an existing pipeline that currently pumps Turkmen gas to Russia through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to 90 billions cubic metres.

Through state-run Gazprom, Moscow controls Turkmenistan’s vast gas reserves, estimated at 2.9 trillion cubic meters by some, ten times that by others.

Gazprom already imports about 42 billion cubic metres of gas per year from Turkmenistan at a price of US$ 100 per 1,000 cubic metres and then re-exports it to Europe for an average price of US$ 250

This way Russia has tightened its grip on Central Asian energy supplies at the expense of the United States, the European Union and China.

The EU had been hoping to build a gas pipelines under the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan and Turkey to reduce their energy dependency on Russia. Others had opened that the new Turkmen president, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, would diversify its energy policy.

Still Mr Berdymukhamedov said consideration of the alternative route was still "on the table” despite experts saying that a Caspian route was full of technical, legal and environmental obstacles and dangers, not to mention the veto that Iran and Russia would exert as countries with shorelines on the Caspian.

The Turkmen leader also promised to build a gas pipeline to China and is considering routes to Afghanistan and India. "Don't worry, there is enough [gas]," Berdymukhamedov is quoted as saying.

For many analysts however China is Russia’s main adversary in the region.

In April, Uzbekistan announced its intention to build a 530-km natural gas pipeline to China. The route would have a capacity of 30 billion cubic metres a year, roughly half of its annual gas production. By comparison, the central Asian country sold only 9 billion cubic metres of gas to Russia’s Gazprom in 2006, and will sell 13 billion cubic metres in 2007 despite requests for more.

At the talks Kazakh President Nazarbayev was able to get Putin to agree to the expansion of a pipeline that carries oil from Kazakhstan's Tengiz field to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk (currently about 750,000 barrels per day), and to Kazakhstan's participation in a Russian-controlled 280-km pipeline planned to run from Bulgaria's Black Sea port of Burgas to Alexandroupolis in Greece. (PB)

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