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Central Asia news

The more the demand, the better off the vendor: Golden rule of Oriental bazaars

28.11.2008 22:17 msk

Gazeta (Moscow)

Analytics Central Asia

Presidents of Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan will meet in the city of Turkmenbashi on the Caspian shores this Saturday to discuss energy problems. Experts have no doubts whatsoever that the discussion will be focused on Nabucco, gas pipeline whose construction the Western community promotes and Ankara supports. Two conferences on energy problems in November prove growing interest in Central Asian hydrocarbons export to Europe via the southern part of the Caucasus.

Problems of oil and gas transit were discussed at a high-level conference in Baku, Azerbaijan, attended by representatives of the European Commission and officials from 20 countries (they included 6 presidents). Nabucco was in the center of attention which was quite predictable. Sources of EurasiaNet news agency claim that the initial draft of the summit declaration did not mention Nabucco and that the press conference was cancelled because of the discord between participants. (Some of them including the United States, Georgia, Estonia, Romania, and Bulgaria insisted on putting the project into the declaration). Some pressure was applied to other participants, namely Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, and the name of the project was inserted in the declaration adopted the following day.

In any event, position of Turkmenistan with regard to Nabucco remained in the focus of everyone's attention. The concerned foreign companies rushed to the capital of Turkmenistan for the annual exhibition Turkmen Oil And Gas in Ashkhabad on November 19, eager to hear from the Turkmen authorities a signal that negotiations over a new gas export route were about to commence. Turkmen Deputy Premier Tagiyev and Oil and Gas Minister Derayev met with representatives of Western companies and thoroughly disappointed them by saying not a word on what the visitors had longed to hear. Western experts were left wondering what the Turkmen leaders' silence could mean.

It is hardly surprising therefore that it is the forthcoming conference in Turkmenbashi that is in the focus of attention now.

There is no saying what the negotiations in Turkmenbashi will result in. Turkey alone of these three countries is genuinely interested in Nabucco. As for Azerbaijan, its President Ilham Aliyev was quite straightforward in an interview with RAI International (Italy) on November 27 when he said that "Azerbaijan will be quite content to be a transit country in Nabucco and perhaps even play the part of a gas supplier." Aliyev said that the future of the project mostly depended on activeness of the companies involved and on whether or not Central Asian gas producers and exporters joined it.

Aliyev admitted in the same interview that official Baku was pondering Gazprom's offer to buy gas from Azerbaijan. When President Dmitry Medvedev had been visiting Azerbaijan this June, Gazprom offered signing long-term contracts with Baku for all export gas from the Shakh-Deniz field. "It's pure commerce, nothing more," Aliyev said. "We choose projects to become involved in on the basis of their commercial attractiveness, discriminate capabilities, security, and long-term partnership."

Analogous principles define energy policy of Turkmenistan which regards gas export to Russia and China as a priority. Interviewed by Russian media the other day, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev confirmed that construction of the Caspian Gas Pipeline from Turkmenistan to Russia via Kazakhstan was to begin soon in accordance with previous agreements. Project of Turkmen hydrocarbons export via Afghanistan to Pakistani ports and on to Europe is biding its time... There is no saying if Turkmenistan has enough gas for all these routes, existing and future ones. It does not matter. What matters is that the more the demand, the better off the vendor. This is the golden rule of Oriental bazaars, and Turkmen leaders have learned it well. Who cares that negotiations end in nothing worthwhile? They make other partners (potential buyers) fret, and that's not a bad thing at all.

In a word, Nabucco will remain an item on agenda of summits pending a successful linking of economic and political considerations.

“SILENCE ON NABUCCO”, Sanobar Shermatova, Gazeta, No 227, November 28, 2008, p. 6. © Translated by Ferghana.Ru