At the Eurasian Media Forum in Kazakhstan last month, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak advised his audience not to make political predictions, because, he said, it’s too risky.
The former prime minister was referring to political predictions about the Middle East, no doubt, a highly volatile part of the world. However, his caution could just as easily apply to Central Asia, the Caspian and the Caucasus. Though not quite as volatile as the Middle East, this region of the world isn’t lacking its share of upheaval.
Indeed, making predictions of any sort, unless one can see into the future – and there has been an acute shortage of such prophets for a couple of thousand years – is risky at the best of times, because things often go awry, and especially so in parts of the world where political stability is not always a given. With that in mind, Oilprice.com made the following (correct) prediction, only last week.
Reporting on the possibility of sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and its European allies, we wrote that in the event that Russian natural gas becomes unavailable as a result of sanctions imposed by the West in retaliation for Moscow's actions in Crimea and Ukraine, “In the immediate future, the only two countries able to provide the amount of gas needed to replace Russia in Europe are Turkmenistan and to a lesser degree, Azerbaijan.”
And as we also noted, Turkmenistan’s gas would need to pass through the Caspian Sea, via the Trans-Caspian pipeline, through Azerbaijan and onto Georgia and Turkey before continuing on to its final destinations.
Less than a week later, the European Union has said it is of the same mind.
Related Article: Global Energy Advisory – 16th May 2014
On May 19, the head of an EU delegation to Azerbaijan told journalists that the implementation of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline will be a good opportunity to diversify energy supplies to EU countries.
Malena Mard said that, given the high demand for gas, the EU would like to import gas from Turkmenistan. "The EU supports the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project," Mard said during her visit to Baku.
Negotiations between the European Union and Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan on the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline began in September 2011, long before the crisis in Ukraine. But recent events in the region have renewed the need to speed up the project, as European countries are now eager to diversify their supply sources.
A framework agreement for cooperation on deliveries of Turkmen natural gas to Turkey and further on to Europe was signed between the governments of Turkmenistan and Turkey in July, 2013 after a series of high level talks in the Turkmenistan capital, Ashgabat.
The project will require the laying of some 300 kilometers of pipeline to transport the gas under the Caspian to the shores of Azerbaijan. This is believed to be the best option available to deliver Turkmen resources to European markets. This would also allow European countries to end most of their dependence on Russian gas.
The exact laws affecting the laying of pipelines under the Caspian Sea are still a work in progress. Some countries, such as Turkmenistan, believe that under international law, the consent of the two countries concerned -- itself and Azerbaijan -- would suffice.
For its part, Azerbaijan has said it is ready to allow the pipeline traverse its territory and to offer transit opportunities and infrastructure for the implementation of the project.
Given the two countries’ willingness, and the EU’s approval, the project has a good chance of succeeding.
And that’s as much predicting as one can make for now.
By Claude Salhani of Oilprice.com