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Eurasianet

Eurasianet

Eurasianet is an independent news organization that covers news from and about the South Caucasus and Central Asia, providing on-the-ground reporting and critical perspectives on…

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Turkmenistan Eyes Gas Export Breakthrough with Turkey

  • Turkmenistan is negotiating gas exports to Turkey and global markets through swap deals, with a focus on electricity supply to Afghanistan.
  • A trade fair emphasizes Turkmenistan's commitment to economic cooperation with Afghanistan, highlighting ongoing energy projects and addressing water diversion concerns.
  • The TAP power line project, led by Turkey's Calyk Holding, aims to enhance electricity exports to Afghanistan and Pakistan, demonstrating Turkmenistan's strategic regional energy initiatives.
Gas Pipeline

With Turkmenistan and its gas export dreams, intentions are strong, but implementation is faltering.

On March 1, Turkmen National Leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the father of the president, traveled to Turkey to attend the Antalya Diplomatic Forum.

During the visit, he met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — an encounter celebrated with generous niceties. To mark his host’s recent 70th birthday, Berdymukhamedov arrived with the gift of an ichmek, a Turkmen sheepskin gown traditionally bestowed upon wise elders. A few days earlier, his son, President Serdar Berdymukhamedov, approved a decree conferring the title Honorary Elder of Turkmenistan upon Erdogan.

In more serious business, officials from the two countries signed off on a pair of documents that could, in theory, set the stage for Turkmen gas exports to Turkey. One was a Memorandum of Understanding on accelerating cooperation in the natural gas sector, the other was a Declaration of Intent laying the foundation for joint ventures in the hydrocarbon sector.

This might sound a little hazy, but Turkish Energy Minister Alparslan Bayraktar was categorical about what it implies.

“With the signatures, we aim to ship Turkmen gas first to Turkey and then to global markets,” he tweeted on March 1.

Official Turkmen chronicles were more circumspect. In the loosest of terms, they alluded to discussions on the supply of Turkmen natural gas under a swap scheme. Turkmenistan also aspires to sell Turkey electricity.

Pending any dramatic, not to say unlikely, movement on the elusive Trans-Caspian Pipeline concept, a swap arrangement indeed looks like the most realistic option.

Turkey at present imports gas via pipelines from Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia. Turkmenistan, meanwhile, exports gas to Iran’s remote northeastern regions.

The natural solution would be for Iran, Turkey and Turkmenistan to make a three-way swap deal. A similar arrangement involving Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkmenistan collapsed in January and shows no sign of being revived soon, so there is notionally some spare capacity.

In another boon to Ankara and Ashgabat, Washington does not appear to be put out by the potential involvement of heavily sanctioned Iran in such a deal. In January, the U.S. ambassador to Turkmenistan, Matthew Klimow, told journalists that swap deals involving Iran did not, as far as the U.S. government is concerned, violate any sanctions.

“It will depend on how the deal is structured,” Klimow was quoted as saying in remarks translated into Russian by Interfax-Azerbaijan at the time.

In news of other slow-moving gas feasts, Muhammetmyrat Amanov, chief executive of the Ashgabat-based TAPI Pipeline Limited Corporation, reportedly stated on March 4 that Turkmenistan is working with the Taliban-run government in Afghanistan on “implementation of a strategy for the construction of a 150-kilometer section of the [trans-Afghan TAPI] gas pipeline” to Herat. The purpose of this spur of pipeline is to provide gas to industrial enterprises and households in Afghanistan’s western Herat province, Amanov said in remarks relayed by TASS news agency in a report that has not been posted online.

Exactly what aspect of implementation Turkmenistan is enabling is not clear, however.

The past week in Turkmenistan has been heavily Afghanistan-themed. A three-day trade fair of Afghan goods opened on March 4 in Ashgabat. The exhibition is designed to send a pair of complementary messages: one being that Afghanistan is open for business and produces a broad category of exportable consumer goods, another is that Turkmenistan stands ready to boost trade with its eastern neighbor.

And Kabul is eager to be seen as playing nice.

Related: How To Profit From Europe’s $800 Billion Energy Crisis

Speakers at the Turkmen-Afghan business forum held on the day of the opening of the fair included Afghan Commerce and Industry Minister Nooruddin Azizi. NewsCentralAsia, an outlet based out of Ashgabat, quoted Azizi as addressing one major elephant in the room in Afghanistan-Central Asia interactions of late: ongoing work by Kabul to build the 285-kilometer Qosh-Tepa canal, which may soon end up diverting up to 20 percent of water from the Amu Darya River. Azizi reportedly stated that Qosh-Tepa “will not impact the interests of Turkmenistan,” although he does not seem to have explained how it would avoid doing so.

Azizi also met for talks with Berdymukhamedov the elder and reportedly expressed interest in Afghanistan using the transit capabilities of Turkmenistan’s Turkmenbashi port.

In the here and now, it is Turkmenistan’s electricity exports that are making the difference for Afghanistan. Turkmen Energy Ministry official Myrat Artykov said at the business forum that Turkmenistan will in 2024 supply 1.8 billion kilowatt hours of electricity to Afghanistan. That is up from the 1.4 billion kilowatt hours delivered in 2023.

While electricity is at present delivered through 220 kilovolt power lines, Artykov says the plan for the “near future” is to install 500 kilovolt lines and thereby extend the reach of exports to Kabul.

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The project to build the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan power line, known as TAP for short, will be implemented by Turkey’s Calyk Holding company, Artykov said in remarks quoted by RIA-Novosti news agency (not posted online). Work will be done over three phases: the first stage involves constructing a 375-kilometer, 220-kilovolt power line from a hydroelectric power station in Mary province, Turkmenistan, to Herat province. The second stage entails installing a 1,150-kilometer, 500-kilovolt power line from Mary to Quetta in Pakistan. The third stage will culminate in a 575-kilometer, 220-kilovolt power line extending from Herat province to Kandahar province.

Turkmenistan is selling electricity to Afghanistan at preferential rates.

None of this is to say Ashgabat appears willing to let down its guard. On March 1, a few days ahead of the Afghan trade fair, deputy foreign ministers of Russia and Turkmenistan met for clock-setting consultations in Ashgabat that touched, among other things, on “security and countering new threats.” The Russian envoy, Sergei Vershinin, voiced approval for Turkmenistan’s Afghanistan policy of emphasizing “economic restoration and political stability.”

Meteozhurnal, a weather-focused Russian website, normally brings miserable tidings about Turkmenistan. A February 29 report brought slightly happier news though. After noting that the town of Serhetabad saw some unusually heavy snow in late February, it added that the area has seen large amounts of precipitation for the first occasion in a very long time. The rain appears poised to help ensure Turkmenistan can avoid a repeat of the droughts that have blighted it for a few years.

In related news, Meteozhurnal concluded last month after a study of satellite imagery that reservoirs in Turkmenistan have this winter accumulated particularly large reserves of water. One expert consulted by Amsterdam-based Turkmen.news attributed this to the Amu Darya flowing at full capacity for the first time in three years. The apparent health of the river is explained as being the result of “natural causes,” but the reporting does not dwell on what these natural conditions might be.

By Eurasianet.org 

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