Turkmens slam Russian bid to hinder gas pipeline

October 21, 2011 - 7:05 PM

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) — Energy-rich Turkmenistan lashed out Wednesday at what it says is a Russian attempt to stymie the creation of a natural gas supply route to Europe.

The Turkmen Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it supports the European Union's plans to broker negotiations between former Soviet nations Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan on speeding up the creation of a trans-Caspian pipeline.

That pipeline would allow Turkmenistan to feed its copious gas reserves into planned European gas routes, but the project has been opposed by Russia that seeks to maintain its role as the top energy supplier to Europe.

Russia provides Western Europe with a quarter of its gas requirements and has resisted initiatives aimed at loosening its grip over the energy market. Turkmenistan, which by some official estimates holds more than 30 trillion cubic meters (1,000 trillion cubic feet) in total gas reserves, is trying to find as many export routes as possible.

The legal status of the Caspian Sea have been in limbo since the 1991 Soviet collapse.

The Turkmen statement followed last week's warning from Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev, who said that the trans-Caspian pipeline should not go ahead without the approval of all five coastal countries — Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Russia.

Turkmenistan argued that the legal uncertainty has not prevented countries from entering into bilateral agreements on use of the Caspian.

"So far, nobody has argued that such actions are illegal, and nobody has tried to limit them because of a lack of documentation defining the legal status of the Caspian Sea," the Turkmen Foreign Ministry said.

It rejected Russia's argument that the underwater pipeline could threaten the environment, saying that the Central Asian nation will build it to international standards.

"Quite simply, no serious investor would take part in a project in which the necessary ecological guarantees could not be ensured," the ministry said.

Turkmenistan already sells gas to Russia, China and Iran, but it wants to ship it to Western Europe, as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to the east.

The trans-Caspian pipeline would link Turkmenistan to the EU- and U.S.-backed prospective Nabucco pipeline, which is slated to transport 31 billion cubic meters of natural gas from the Caspian region to Austria via southern Europe. The viability of the project has been called into question over doubts that enough suppliers can be found to fill the pipeline.

Turkmenistan has already committed in principle to supplying the European Union with up to 10 billion cubic meters of gas annually. Nabucco's backers say gas will start flowing through the pipeline in 2017, although industry insiders are skeptical that deadline will be met.