April 30, 2009 (the date of publication in Russian)

Alexander Sobko


Is the EU energy policy defined in Washington again?

Not so long ago a new and quite effective scheme of diversification of southern way of gas import to Europe seemed to be formed. Firstly, Russian and Middle Asian gas supply through the projected South Stream is to become its main component. Secondly, the probability of Iranian gas transport through the territory of Turkey is really high in medium-term perspective. And finally, the development of infrastructure of using natural gas, which is exported by Qatar, for example, could be developed as "insurance".

In case this strategic model was accepted, Europe would get rather slender scheme of gas import from countries which have first places in world rate of gas reserves and compete with each other. Everything would be great, if politics or, more exactly, irrational ideological phobias, didn't interfere in finding the solution to the economic question.

"Natural Gas for Europe. Security and Partnership" energy forum which took place in Sophia has confirmed apprehensions of Russian experts – the EU has again begun serious discussions of Nabucco gas pipeline, which is a real rival for the projected South Stream. In the final declaration participants of the summit formally supported the construction of both gas pipelines, but only few doubt that in reality only one of them can be built.

Against this backdrop the EU at first ignores the opinion of Russian delegation by making a contract with Ukraine on the modernization of the country's GTS, and then begins to go in for Nabucco project.

In the EU version of the gas pipeline the main stake will be made on Turkmenistan's resource base. The recent singing of a memorandum on collaboration between German RWE and Turkmenistan confirms that.

We'll remind, that in spite of having preliminary agreements, Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, the president of Turkmenistan, refused to sign an agreement about building East-West gas pipeline a month ago in Moscow. Moreover, Ashkhabad has recently held some anti-Russian demarches Ц gathered an international conference titled "Reliable and Stable Transit of Energy and the Role of energy in Sustainable Development and International Cooperation", and the explosion on gas pipeline transporting Turkmen gas to Russia was used for numerous accusations against Moscow and demonstrative worsening in relationships.

But even if the EU makes a deal with Ashkhabad, it's still unclear how Turkish gas will reach Europe avoiding Russia. As we know, Nabucco implies building a gas pipeline over the bottom of Caspian Sea. But this project isn't that easy to realize Ц the building of trans-Caspian gas pipeline can be blocked by coordinated position of Moscow and Teheran "for ecological reasons". Maybe Iran used to put up with historically formed export of Turkmen gas to Russia, but it wouldn't approve creating of another gas stream from Turkmenistan avoiding Iranian territory, when the very gas could be transported through the territory of the country, and not only to Europe, but also to Pakistan and India.

In this connection recent Moscow's agreements with Baku about total purchase of gas from the second phase of Shah Deniz gas field is an important return move. Firstly, it will weaken probable Nabucco resource base; secondly, it will make Azerbaijan, the location of which plays an important part in the question, not really interested in building trans-Caspian pipeline and further gas transit to Georgia.

As we know, gas will come through Georgia and to Turkey, which in its turn doesn't want to be an ordinary transit-country, and so tries to get maximum bonuses from the status (one of those bonuses could be joining the EU).

That way, in contrast to quite expensive but obvious scheme of South Stream, Nabucco is much more difficult in its plan, the realization of which is hardly possible because of mutual contradiction among all the numerous participants of the project. And it's rather hard to understand why the EU needs it.

Traditionally the EU representatives explain this approach by the need of "diversification of energy sources", but taking into consideration that gas transport systems cost a few billion dollars and Ц to all appearances Ц have common source base (Turkmen gas) that approach can't be reasonable.

There is no secret that the USA is lobbying these EU initiatives Ц George Krol, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, has clearly announced that during the summit in Turkmenistan, when he said that the USA "strongly supports the diversification of energy markets and transit routes both among Central Asian states and between this region and broader international markets".

Indeed, if we admit that the intensification of works on Nabucco is recommended to Brussels by Washington, then the USA gets many profits from such recommendations.

Firstly, even if "fuss" around Nabucco doesn't lead to its construction, it obviously will slow down the signing of agreement on South Stream, which means European economy will begin receiving additional gas volumes later, and this will definitely affect European economy.

And if Nabucco is built, its route will include many parts, where another local conflict might "suddenly" begin, accompanied by subversive acts on gas pipeline. In that case Europe will get into straight energy addiction from organizers of the conflict either.

Secondly, "Turkmen" version of Nabucco closes the discussion of "Iranian" version of gas pipeline again, and that way it supports the US policy of the isolation of Iran.

The EU double game has demonstrated Moscow that it has to be really careful in dialogs with the European Union. This Russian partner is unpredictable and often acts against its own interests. It's strange, that the EU wants to get meaningful success on Russian direction practicing that kind of behavior.

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