ISIS threat helps the US get into the race for Turkmenistan gas

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April 7, 2015
Konstantin Simonov
General Director of National Energy Security Fund
Russia Post
Tranlsated by Kristina Rus

Russia and China are in the same boat once again

News from Turkmenistan do not too attract much attention, but they are really interesting.

Last week, first Mr. Poroshenko, then a number of officials expressed readiness to start the purchase of gas in Turkmenistan. It is clear that this once again shows that in public Ukrainian leadership behaves too merrily and not too adequately. Obviously, it is not possible to begin purchases of Turkmen gas for Ukraine now – there is no transport or technical capabilities. You have to look at the map to understand: Kiev can only buy Turkmen gas with the consent of Russia, because Russia has absolutely no obligation to provide pipe capacity. To imagine that we will allow pumping of Turkmen gas, is quite difficult. However, I have a feeling that Mr. Poroshenko, maybe aware about some plans of the United States regarding Turkmenistan and he happily announced what, may be thrown to Ukraine of those plans.

Indeed, the US has again drawn attention to Turkmenistan. But of course, this process is slow, and Mr. Poroshenko rejoices too early. Even if the United States will again now engage in Turkmenistan, it will take years to change the political situation and infrastructure – to say the least. And the situation in Ukraine is close to pre-default. There is no luxury to plan for decades.

Thus it is very curious that quite unexpectedly the authorities of Turkmenistan have requested military assistance from the United States. And somehow this is not really reflected in our news feeds, but event, meanwhile, is very notable. The formal reason was the emergence of ISIS militants in Northern Afghanistan, which creates a threat to Turkmenistan. And Ashgabat expressed a desire to appeal to Washington for military aid. For now it was decided to provide military equipment and some mysterious technology to ensure security. I.e. the US will gladly provide military assistance to Turkmenistan. And it is totally understandable that Ashgabat did not just asked for this help on its own, but this decision was actively suggested. And there is the intrigue.

Turkmenistan has always played an important role in American politics in the Caspian. Many call the trans-Caspian projects “European”, but in reality all these projects were “offered” to Europe by the United States. And the US most actively lobbied for them. It is no coincidence, for example, that the State Department had a position of a special envoy on the issues of the Caspian region, which was long held by Mr. Morningstar, who is now the U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan. He was an active lobbyist for the trans-Caspian pipeline, although it would seem, what does the U.S. have to do with the Caspian sea? The United States always said that they are very worried about the fate of their European partners, so they can’t sit and watch as Europe suffers from Russia, and now they want to offer gas supplies from more reliable democratic countries, like Turkmenistan.

And so this idea for a Trans-Caspian gas pipeline has been floated for a while. Russia, of course, rigidly resisted. And then the idea was put aside. Not because Russia got stronger and Turkmenistan realized that a stubborn construction of Trans-Caspian without the consent of Russia could lead to a military conflict, and it’s not a joke. But rather because another factor emerged – the factor of China, which very quickly came to Turkmenistan with investments and joint projects. Turkmenistan was delighted: “Oh, we’ll play against the Russians and against the West!”. Gave the Chinese the ability to produce gas, build pipelines, and very quickly Turkmenistan realized that it is under a strict control of China. Turkmenbashi No. 2 was not very pleased. The realization came: if Turkmenistan played China against Russia and the West, now something needs to be done with China itself. The game with the US is clear: let us now ask for military help from the States and show China that it is not so simple and it should not call the shots.

Not difficult to guess that China does not appreciate such games. And in fact Turkmenistan is playing quite a bold game. Those who say that now everything in Turkmenistan will change and tomorrow it will build the Trans-Caspian pipeline, are deeply mistaken. Of course, China will do everything to destroy these plans, and we shall see where it leads. China not only doesn’t need American soldiers in Turkmenistan. China does not need the Trans-Caspian pipeline, primarily for economic reasons. While it takes the gas for itself, and Turkmenistan has no alternative – deliveries through Russia are now minimized (we do not need Turkmen gas). And it allows China to firmly negotiate prices and conditions.

We return to what was talked about all of last year: what the United States are doing – is pushing Russia towards China, whether you like it or not. It’s the same with Turkmenistan. Where will the new moves in the Caspian game lead is not yet clear. The desire of the post-Soviet elites to play chess on three boards – is a dangerous desire.

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