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Azerbaijan hopes for a peaceful rearrangement of sectors of the Caspian shelf

27.03.2008 11:24 msk

Nezavisimaya Gazeta

Business Turkmenistan

An almost decade-long reprieve over, the Azerbaijani-Turkmen relations advance at a breakneck rate these days. Regular contacts between the heads of states and prime ministers were established in the last eighteen months, governmental commissions for economic cooperation advancement set up. Whatever matters soured the bilateral relations years ago are being addressed. President of Turkmenistan Gurbankuly Berdymuhammedov made another step in this direction the other day and appointed a new ambassador to Azerbaijan. Insiders say that he is Annamammed Mammedov, the diplomat who is expected in Baku in the nearest future already to reopen the Turkmen Embassy closed seven years ago in the midst of a quarrel over oil- and gas-bearing shelf of the Caspian Sea.

Appointment of the ambassador and his arrival in Baku precede Berdymuhammedov's first official visit to Azerbaijan. The visit is expected to settle two matters both countries view as vitally important. The first problem concerns division of the Caspian shelf into national sectors.

"A compromise on this principal issue will automatically solve all other problems, including that of the disputes over Kjapjaz [an oil and gas field known in Turkmenistan as Serdar - Nezavisimaya Gazeta]," political scientist Alpai Akhmed said. This field is located on the border between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. It is believed to contain both oil (80 million tons) and gas (32 billion cubic meters). Azerbaijan suggests its joint development and makes references to a precedent. (LUKOIL of Russia and the Azerbaijani State Oil and Gas Company signed a joint development accord in connection with Jalama, a field located on the border of the Russian and Azerbaijani national sectors.) "That's a reasonable offer, one both countries will certainly benefit from," Akhmed said.

Participation of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan in international projects concerning export of Caspian hydrocarbons to Europe is the second problem. First and foremost, the matter concerns Nabucco, a gas pipeline actively promoted by the European Union and United States. Baku is avidly interested. It even offers its infrastructure for Turkmen and Kazakh export to Europe - as long as they raised no objections of course. Nabucco initiators, however, have been unable so far to persuade Ashkhabad to change its gas export routes. The latest attempt to accomplish precisely that was made during Berdymuhammedov's official visit to Ankara earlier this week. When his negotiations with the Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul were over, local media outlets reported Nabucco in danger. "Gul informed Berdymuhammedov that Ankara wanted Turkmen gas for Nabucco but the visitor never gave his consent to that," one of the Turkish newspapers wrote. "It is believed in the meantime that the project is a waste without Turkmenistan's support." Experts point out that the existing uncertainty with Ashkhabad's stand on the matter makes availability of Turkmen gas for Nabucco highly unlikely. Specialists perceive the Turkmen-Russian gas accord (sale of 80 billion cubic meters of gas to Russia every year) as a major obstacle preventing Turkmenistan's participation in Nabucco.

It may be added that Turkmenistan produces 70 billion cubic meters of gas nowadays. Twenty billion are left for domestic consumption, eight billion exported to Iran, and the rest goes to Russia. In other words, Ashkhabad may be wishing to deal with Europe too but it does not have anything to offer to the Old World.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, No 62, February 27, 2008, p. 8. © Translated by Ferghana.Ru