06/05/2009, 00.00
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Turkmenistan in energy talks with Europe to loosen Russian monopoly

Russia and Turkmenistan squabble over gas sales depriving Ashgabat of US$ 2 billion in revenues in April and May, forced to shut down 195 fields. Human rights are set aside.
Ashgabat (AsiaNews/Agencies) –Turkmenistan wants to cooperate with the European Union in the energy field after Russia reneged on an agreement to buy billions of cubic metres (BCM) of natural gas from Turkmenistan at what was then a “European” price.

Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov is thought to have discussed the issue in a recent meeting with EU officials in Brussels. In addition to EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, Mr Meredov met EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

There have been no official comment but Piebalgs’ spokesman Ferran Tarradellas said that “it makes perfect sense for the Turkmen foreign minister to visit the EU capital from time to time.”

Mr Meredov came together with his country's ministers for communications and trade for a regular meeting scheduled for 4 June under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

Turkmenistan and Russia are at odds after Moscow backed out of an accord to buy some 50 BCMs of Turkmen gas annually at European prices in order block European buyers.

Originally the agreed priced was above US$ 300 but prices are coming down and Russia's Gazprom said that it would only pay the current price which is around US$ 200.

Adding significant tension to their relationship was the unexplained explosion of a key pipeline connecting Turkmenistan and Russia in early April.

Turkmen sources accuse Gazprom for the blast, suggesting that it was done so that the Russian energy giant would not have to pay the higher price for gas.

Ultimately shutting down the pipelined has deprived Turkmenistan of gas export revenues (around US billion in April and May) and forced it to stop gas extraction in 195 fields.

Still energy was already on the agenda of the talks in Brussels. In fact Turkmen authorities in Ashgabat had already told a visiting EU delegation it would set aside 10 BCM a year for the bloc's planned Nabucco pipeline, to run from Turkey to Austria.

UE sources have said that Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is “furious” with Moscow, but that any further development must wait for the construction of the Nabucco pipeline.

The Czech EU Presidency informed the bloc's member states that the Turkmen side had put off indefinitely the next round of the EU-Turkmen human rights dialogue, which the EU had hoped would take place ahead of the recent meeting.

Turkmenistan, along with Uzbekistan, has traditionally been the most resistant of the Central Asian states to Western influence, especially to Western demands for greater respect of human rights. This has favoured closer relations with Russia as well as China. But the European Union now seems less interested in promoting human rights.

For Ashgabat closer ties to the European Union means reducing its dependence on Russian pipelines to export its gas (some 50 BCMs annually).

At present Turkmenistan exports an additional 8 BCMs to Iran, but a new pipeline to China is set to start operating toward the end of this year (with a 30 BCM capacity).

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See also
Paris III: donors to the rescue of the Siniora government
Putin tightens control over Central Asian energy
Barroso in Beijing to launch strategic partnership
Improve human rights situation, says Barroso
Global crisis could further increase poverty in Turkmenistan, World Bank reports


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