Ashgabat (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The two days visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Turkmenistan, which began Oct. 21 saw the resumption of the sale of Turkmen gas to Moscow, for an amount of 11 billion cubic meters (bcm). But it is much less than Russia bought before the economic crisis. Ashgabat is increasingly looking for other countries willing to pay high prices and is focusing its aim primarily on China.
A few years ago, Russia wanted to absorb all the energy in Central Asia, paying "a European price", or at higher then existing prices. Moscow insisted on multi-year contracts with an automatic escalation of the price. It imported 40 bcm per year from Turkmenistan and discussed reaching 65 bcm.
The global economic crisis has decreased the demand for energy and the price of oil and gas. Russia has renegotiated the price of supplies from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. But Turkmenistan, considering that it has the 4th largest gas reserves in the world and exports 90% of it to Russia, has insisted on maintaining "European prices".
In April 2009, a leak caused a serious explosion in the Turkmen gas pipeline. Ashgabat blamed Russia, but in the interim gas supplies were cut off for eight months, from April to December 2009, with a drop in revenue for Turkmenistan estimated at one billion dollars a month.
This cooled relations between the two countries and brought Ashgabat to seek other markets. In December 2009, it opened a gas pipeline to China able to carry 40 bcm and is talking of a new pipeline to bring another 12 bcm to Iran in addition to 8 bcm already exported there.
Ashgabat has also discussed supplying energy to Europe for the Nabucco project and supports the proposed gas pipeline Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI). But no contracts were signed for these projects, although it has been discussed for some time and despite the fact that Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov wants to increase exports from the current 25-30 bcm to 180 bcm by 2030.
The Tapi clashes with serious security problems (having to pass through areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan where the insurgency is active) and the historical conflict between India and Pakistan.
In Europe it is necessary to beat the formidable Russian competition, which recently has been developing fields in the Yamal peninsula, estimated at 16 thousand bcm of gas, which, together with the Bovanenkovo deposits, are able to meet the needs of the planned Nord Stream pipeline (55 bcm ) and South Stream (63 bcm), that Moscow favours over Nabucco.
Ashgabat is closely following all opportunities, but at the moment the one offered by China is the most concrete. Beijing has already created a pipeline and its companies are active in exploration and extraction of Turkmen gas. This month, the China National Petroleum Corporation, a leading Chinese state firm for Energy, announced the discovery of another rich gas field in the Amu Darya River in Turkmenistan.
Berdymukhammedov also inaugurated a new gas compression station at Bagtiyarlyk fields, which China claims contains an estimated 1,600 bcm of gas. In June, the two countries agreed to increase the supply of gas to 22 bcm.