September 19, 2008

Azerbaijan, Central Asia Face Urgent Choice of Big Backers for Energy Transport

Azerbaijan, along with other Central Asian gas producing countries, has to make a swift choice with regard to NABUCO project, Turan's analytical piece has concluded. As the West and Russia are at loggerheads over energy issues, the regional countries have to hurry and contribute to the plans of the tested and reliable partners, the article concludes. The strike on Georgia was actually an indirect blow on the whole Caspian oil and gas geopolitics of the West and should have been a severe warning for all the Caspian countries, the analytical report went on to say. Russia could not reconcile itself with the fact that Georgia gradually turned into a main transport-communications and energy corridor between the West and the East, depriving Russia of the possibility of exploiting its "gas weapon" for its imperial aims, according to the finding of the think tank group. The following is the text of Turan's analytical service report by private Azerbaijani news agency Turan on 10 September headlined "Passions around NABUCO"; subheadings have been inserted editorially:

An international exhibition and conference "Oil and gas potential of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan" started in Baku on 9 September in a quiet regime. An agreement on the conduct of such a conference was achieved several months ago in the course of the May visit to Azerbaijan of the Turkmen president.

At that time both countries were actively engaged in an alternative energy game and were filled with big optimism since the geopolitical situation in the region and the future of the new oil and gas projects (first of all, NABUCO) did not fill us with misgivings.

Imposing energy forum in absence of presidents

If the situation has not changed since, one would assume with confidence that the current energy forum would proceed in a more festive and imposing format with claims to become even a unique arena for a political presentation of the NABUCO project. Nevertheless, as we see, the energy forum though turned out to be enough imposing for the geography of the participants, nevertheless, it did not become striking and significant event and went on without presidents and turned into a regular conference with elements of discussions on the topic of vitality of NABUCO.

This is because the smooth running of the civilized geopolitical and energy "auction" was undermined by rough political and military interference of Russia in Georgia. It was exactly the events of the recent months that have qualitatively changed the situation of dynamic equilibrium in the region and exploded the idyllic atmosphere around the NABUCO project.

At the beginning, the Kremlin, in actual service of [the Russian gas giant of] Gazprom, started to active political-economic bargaining with Caspian littoral states, striving to lock to Russia energy resources and transport routes of this region. In the course of the July visits of the Russian president to Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, Moscow, in essence, undertook last "peaceful efforts" in order to purchase all gas from those countries to provide itself with the right to exclusively command energy flows from the region and to practically derail the NABUCO project promoted by the West.

Strike on Georgia blow to West's oil and gas geopolitics

Apparently, this "cake" turned out to be uneatable and did not produce due effect and then the "pro-Gazprom" Kremlin decided to resort to the tested method of rough military force and open blackmail. The strike on Georgia was actually planned as a strike on the whole Caspian oil and gas geopolitics of the West and should have been a severe warning for all the Caspian countries.

The operational pipelines of (BTC [Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan], and BTE [the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum]) and new projects under construction (the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway), the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, NABUCO and so on) have gradually transferred Georgia into a main transport- communications and energy corridor between the West and the East, depriving Russia of the possibility of exploiting its "gas weapon" in its imperial aims.

The struggle against NABUCO and other alternative projects became a fixed idea for "pro-Gazprom" Russia. With establishment of a zone of protracted instability in Georgia and frightening Western investors in every possible way and first of all, the Caspian littoral states with dramatically growing risks of this energy corridor, Moscow began to forcefully push all to thinking over giving preference to other routes (via Russian territory). In politics, like in the nature: active actions often cause active opposition. The hostilities, sabotage and threats of Moscow, although frightened the West, but they did not weaken their interest in the NABUCO project and searches for new alternative routes.

Armed with "gas truncheon" Russia reanimating "evil empire"

Moreover, the fear of unpredictable Russia, armed with "gas truncheon" and reanimating its previous image of "the empire of evil", has made further topical for the West the problem of energy security and has increased manifold the essence of NABUCO and other alternative projects.

The demonstrative blitz visit of US Vice President Dick Cheney to Baku, Tbilisi, Kiev and Rome had the main aim of instilling fresh energy, optimism into the NABUCO project. And to all appearances, he has partially succeeded in this. At least this visit evidently, considerably alarmed Moscow, if she had not found anything better as to put into circulation an outright disinformation, alleging Baku turned Cheney down, refused from NABUCO and made a choice in favour of the Russian route. At the same time, the topic of NABUCO was again on the focus of attention at the Turkmen-Azerbaijani energy forum and the Moscow's misinformation was denied by representatives of the official Baku and the Western supervisor of the project.

New projects through new routes may involve Armenia into process

Despite all this, political passions around NABUCO continue to flare up, acquiring fresh intriguing details. At the initiative of the same Cheney, to the October energy summit of the EU, where the NABUCO project will most likely be again in the centre of attention, along with Georgia and Azerbaijan, Armenia has also received an invitation which shows to preparing standby or future options for the "alternative game" of the West.

Turkish Foreign Minister Babacan has recently spoken about the possibility of Armenia to become a transit "substitute" of Georgia. One can assume that this topic was touched upon in the course of the visit of Turkish President Abdullah Gul to Yerevan and will be further continued during his talks in Baku. One should also note that one of the key "gas producers" (comparable with Russia for its potential) Iran, which shows genuine interest in the NABUCO project, also may become a player of the "alternative game".

Representatives of western companies have recently stated unambiguously that the resource base of the NABUCO project, although is oriented to aggregate gas potential of Azerbaijan and Central Asian countries, can also be reoriented to Iran's energy resources. This recognition can be interpreted as a warning to Russia, which supposes that by putting pressure on countries of Central Asia or Azerbaijan, one can put an end to the "alternative game" of the West.

At the same time, this warning to some Caspian littoral states, which as if, have come to a standstill in anxious expectation of the outcome of the geopolitical and energy duel between the West and Russia, bewares the process of endorsing their final choice in favour of this or that option. In the meantime, passions around NABUCO in the contest of confrontation between the West and Russia, in essence, doom all those countries to swift choice of positions in this issue.

Originally published by Turan news agency, Baku, in Russian 0000 10 Sep 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Central Asia. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.