Nabucco and Nord Stream: It takes two to tango

by Steven_Schwerbel on 11/5/2009 · 5 comments

The politics of hydrocarbons in Central Asia has been a regular ballroom lately, with strange partners pairing up and then dancing apart.

The dance begins in Denmark, to which country Vladimir Putin has just pledged to increase the flow of gas:

We are grateful to the Danish Government for giving permission for the construction of the Nord Stream gas transmission system through Danish territorial waters and part of the Danish exclusive economic zone in the Baltic Sea.

We greatly appreciate this prompt and sound decision on the part of our colleagues. It is an example of a measured, politically unbiased approach towards energy issues and energy cooperation in Europe.

Bringing this gas transmission system into operation will ensure additional energy supplies to the main European consumers, including Denmark, which will receive 1 billion cubic metres of gas annually through the Nord Stream system. This volume may be increased threefold in the future.

Europe should have some cause to be glad that the Danes have become Russia’s new dancing partner: Ukraine’s refusal to dance with Russia left Europe cold, literally and figuratively. But hard feelings about the dance card could still hurt, and Russia isn’t over Ukraine just yet.

The tangle of the dance in the north has been enticing Europe to the south, where it has been hoping to revive the Nabucco project. It has asked for a dance with Turkmenistan, but other partners may cut in before the dance can get underway.

Before the Turkmen could really get going with Europe, another dance whirled out of control — Armenia cut in while Azerbaijan and Turkey were dancing, and now Azerbaijan is mad. Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have had their own dance going for a while, but Azerbaijan’s tantrum is threatening to end the party altogether. And so the whole dance could be off just as the Turkmen arrived.

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Ahad_Abdurahmon November 5, 2009 at 5:45 pm

NABUCCO can work only as a threat.
Ms. Europe can, for course, choose an another partner. Mr. Russia knows, though, there is a big difference between fantasizing about another partner and actually having it.
It doesn’t matter how bad the pipe is as long as it is the only pipe that can deliver what Ms. Europa wants.

AJK November 5, 2009 at 8:42 pm

I’m with Ahad, Nabucco only makes sense as a foil to North Stream. The closer North Stream gets to completion, the more marginalized the Caucasus can become. After all, there’s still Blue Stream (and maybe South Stream)

Alex Visotzky November 6, 2009 at 12:31 am

Nabucco is more than a foil to Nord Stream, since Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan have pretty large (potential) interests in it. Granted they’ll likely bow to Russian pressure, but you never know with Turkmenistan, who in the past has cut off their gas (losing enormous revenues along the way) just to prove a point to Russia, and hasn’t hesitated to call out companies like Itera for further complicating issues (though admittedly this was all in the Niyazov era).
Really at the heart of the matter is Europe’s dithering. For years the EU has complained about gas interruptions but been unable to form any sort of comprehensive energy policy, let alone commit any significant funds to invest in pipeline projects that might change the equation.
I’m also going to doubt that Axerbaijan will do anything to really threaten the existence of Nabucco–it would be political suicide. More likely they’re just grandstanding and will get over the Armenia-Turkey rapprochement.
Also, Ahad, the last line of your comment is beautiful.

Ahad_Abdurahmon November 6, 2009 at 1:54 pm

Let us look at the issue closer.
The problem: Europe depends too much on Russian gas and Russia and Russia can manipulate this dependence for political ends.
Solution: get rid of that dependence.
1. Diversification of the energy mix: reducing reliance on natural gas, using more of other fossil fuels, nuclear energy and other alternative sources of energy. Obstacles: Might work, but it is going to take several decades to see the effects to kick in.
2. Diversification of gas exports: the best ‘quick fix’ approach. Keep burning gas, just think about finding it somewhere else. Obstacles: practically none around Europe has the ability to replace the amount of gas delivered by Russia. Nabucco can offer only half of the total European demand even if the Middle East is also included. Certain transit countries (like Turkey) might find it useful to manipulate its transit status for political ends. What is the point if Turkey instead of Russia starts manipulating your hunger for gas?
3. Accept more Realpolitik approach and stop bitching against Russia.

Daviv November 11, 2009 at 11:07 pm

Countries of the region desire to be part of “Western civilization,” but they will be restricted to membership only in post-Soviet structures in the near future.

Yuri Sigov, specially for CA-NEWS

The upcoming Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the OSCE as well as Nabucco project will give a new impetus to a closer cooperation of Central Asian states and the West.

Thus, a number of European countries (Germany, UK, France) already have special programs of cooperation with the five countries of the region.

Other EU members by means of establishing partnership with Kazakhstan, future chair of the OSCE, are planning to substantively strengthen their presence in Central Asia, which they perceive as important and advantageous trade and economic “spring-board” to reach China.

Although membership in CIS, EurAsEC, and CSTO will compel senior officials of the Central Asian states to continue visiting each other in the coming years and convince their citizens and themselves that they are necessary, all of them would like to “lean against” the Western partners and Western organizations.

The presidents of Central Asian states quite regularly (except for special traditions of behavior of Uzbek and Turkmen leaders) attend the summits of the CIS, CSTO, and EurAsEC depending on own political and economic interests.

However, they do so mostly because of “inevitable necessity,” rather than because of the presence of good neighborliness and mutual understanding among them. The region is dominated by division, rather than real cooperation (“mine-border friendship” between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, “basic fears” between Tashkent and Bishkek, or “water confrontations” among all the countries of the region).

With all this going on, post-Soviet structures are of little help to the countries. The conflicts are solved mostly by means of bilateral negotiations, if the presidents are willing.

It is not surprising that all the countries of Central Asia are moving in the direction of enlightened Europe. They see prospects of the future only in cooperation with the EU and distant America (at least leaders of the countries send their children there).

However, “united Europeans” are going to keep Central Asian states at arm’s length despite their interest in the region’s resources. At the same time the EU itself can not continue to expand geographically, and “special partnership” cooperation with the post-Soviet states is unlikely to ease their “path to Europe.”

Nevertheless, with all their political and economic promiscuity, all the countries of Central Asia are attracted by promising cooperation with the EU and the US.

After all, bilateral cooperation of the Central Asian states can hardly be considered mutually beneficial and civilized.

Of course, all Central Asian countries are still tightly tied to Russia and its interests. But former common Soviet past as well as once common culture and presence of Russian language in the region (which is loosing its positions) do not determine today’s prospects for further development for the Central Asian states.

Meanwhile, the countries of Central Asia formed an implicit consensus on staying in the post-Soviet structures. No doubt they will continue their membership in CIS, CSTO and EurAsEC. And at the same time the leaders of the state will continue strengthening ties with the EU, NATO, and other Western institutions and associations, seeing future prospects for their states.

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