Russian president Dmitry Medvedev phoned his Turkmen counterpart in Ashgabat, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov last weekend to discuss bilateral Russian-Turkmen ties and to schedule high-level exchanges in the coming period, “including the top level”. There have been reports in the Russian media that Medvedev might visit Ashgabat next month and GB would pay a return visit before the yearend. To be sure, Moscow seems revving up the ties with Ashgabat. Energy is invariably at the top of the Russian-Turkmen agenda. So, what’s cooking?
The big question is whether Russia is taking an initiative on the gas pipeline projects in the South Asian region. TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline has lately begun making some headway
. It seems a major sticking point has been resolved, with Ashgabat and Delhi agreeing on the gas price at $460 per tcm. Turkmen side dropped the initial demand of $505-525. Now comes the financing part. The Asian Development Bank is prepared to finance one-third of the $7.6 billion project cost. Another aspect would be construction issues. On both these issues, Russia’s Gazprom could play a role. But there is a catch.
The TAPI was supposed to have drawn gas from Dauletabad gas field, which Moscow manages and Gazprom would have had some say in it. But now, Ashgabat changes its mind and the gas for TAPI would instead come from the South Yolotan-Osman field, which supplies China and which according to the British auditors could be the fifth largest gas field in the world. Gazprom has not only no hold over South Yolotan, but Ashgabat also would be in a position to divert the surplus from Dauletabad to the US-sponsored Nabucco project that could supply the European market, competing with the Russian supplies to Europe. Moscow wouldn’t like Nabucco to see the light of day as a rival to its own pipelines to Europe. What Medvedev offers to Ashgabat in order to keep the Russian-Turkmen energy ties as top priority on GB’s mind will be fun to watch.
Meanwhile, Pakistani PM Yusuf Gilani will be visiting Iran next month. This would be the third high-level Pak-Iranian exchange in 3 months. (US would be hopping mad.) The visit comes on the heels of the warming of ties
between Russia and Iran and the decision by the two sides to convene their joint economic commission very soon. Russia’s national security chief Nikolai Petrushev visited Tehran last week and the Iranian FM Ali Akbar Salehi paid a ‘working visit’ to Moscow. The Iranians have since revealed that Russia has offered to build more nuclear power plants in Iran. (Bushehr would be commissioned in September.)
Alongside comes the report in the Pakistani press that Gazprom is keen
to fund the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project. The construction work on the Pakistani side is scheduled to begin sometime next year, while the Iranian part of the pipeline is almost ready. If Gazprom comes in as a financier-cum-contractor for the Pakistani pipeline, Russia-Pakistan ties will move on to a qualitative new level.
Russia has been assessing the US-Pakistan rift and the shifts in the Pakistani policies. The prospect of the establishment of permanent US military bases
in Afghanistan would most certainly work on the Russian thinking and prompt Moscow to galvanize the Russian diplomacy toward Pakistan and Iran. Alas, India is staying aloof. Good thing that the Indian refineries have resolved the payment difficulties for the purchase of Iranian oil. But there is a long way to go to bring the India-Iran ties back to their traditional vitality.