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23rd Feb 2020

Russia frets over EU plans to link up Caspian gas fields

  • Gas from the Caspian region has until now been a Russian monopoly (Photo: lib.utexas.edu)

Moscow expressed its "disappointment" on Tuesday (13 September) over EU plans to build a Trans-Caspian pipeline connecting large Turkmen gas reserves to Azerbaijan, offering an alternative to the Russian monopoly on gas transports from that region.

The Trans-Caspian pipe would allow gas-rich Turkmenistan to join Azerbaijan in exporting directly to Europe via Nabucco, a planned 1200-km pipeline crossing Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary.

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Talks on this EU pet project have stalled in recent years precisely due to fears that there is not enough Azeri gas to make it viable.

The EU decision, announced on Monday, "seems to have been adopted without taking into account the internationally accepted legal and geopolitical situation in the Caspian basin," a statement from the Russian foreign ministry said.

It added that EU nations have no experience developing such complex projects and expressed its "surprise" that the first link would run under a body of water that is so far removed from Europe.

Moscow also suggested that as a country bordering the Caspian Sea, Russia could veto any international agreement allowing for the pipeline to be built.

But EU experts suggest that the Azeri-Turkmen link can be done without Russia's permission, by connecting the two countries' respective offshore gas fields in the Caspian, for which a bilateral agreement is sufficient.

"We have the intention of achieving this as soon as possible," EU energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger said in a statement, adding that it is important for the EU to get new sources of gas. Currently, the bloc imports a quarter of its gas consumption from Russia via Ukraine. A considerable part of that is Turkmen gas, transported through Soviet-era pipelines crossing Russia.

Nabucco chief Reihard Mitschek welcomed the EU plan to develop a Trans-Caspian pipeline and said that together with his project it "offers the most competitive export route for Caspian gas.”

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