AS USUAL. (Come al solito)

Russia has warned the European Union it may cut its crude oil supplies via the Druzhba oil pipeline connecting Siberian oil fields with Europe to Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary due to demands by Ukraine for higher transit fees, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said Monday.
Hungarian oil and gas company MOL Nyrt said it received official notification from Russian oil pipeline operator OAO Transneft its transit spat with Ukraine's state oil pipeline operator Ukrtransnafta could lead to a cut of oil supplies to Eastern Europe Jan. 1.

"According to our knowledge Ukraine has asked for an increase of transit payments by Russia for [crude oil] shipments as of next year," Fico told a news conference.

"Therefore Russia has warned the EU and us about possible disruptions of crude oil shipments from as early as Jan. 1," Fico added.

The possible crude oil supply disruption is "due to [a] payments dispute between these two countries," Fico said, the same as last winter when Russia shut down natural gas shipments to the European Union via Ukraine.

"But unlike the gas crisis of last January, any possible oil shipment disruptions can be covered by [crude oil] supplies via alternative routes," Fico said.

Russian crude oil supplies account for over 90% of Slovakia's domestic demand. The eastern EU country can get alternative oil supplies other than Russian shipments via rail, Slovak industry minister Lubomir Jahnatek said.

Slovakia has crude oil and fuel reserves to cover more than 94 days of its domestic demand.

"These reserves are split about 50%-50% between crude oil and oil products," Fico said.

The Czech Republic has also prepared itself for the risk of an oil supply cut from Russia by maintaining reserves that can cover the local demand for more than 90 days, Czech Industry Ministry spokesman Tomas Bartovsky said.

"We went through similar situations before in 2008 and 2007 and therefore we're prepared," Bartovsky said.

Czechs are less vulnerable than their Slovak neighbors, since Czech oil refineries can be switched fully to crude oil supplies from the country's alternative pipeline, known as IKL. The pipeline connects the Czech Republic with the Adriatic sea port of Trieste in northern Italy and delivers crude oil from the Persian Gulf region. The IKL pipeline covers 30% of local demand.

"IKL is capable of covering the entire local demand if necessary but it would require securing shipment slot contracts in the pipeline system," Bartovsky said, adding that ramping up the IKL oil shipments would take some time.

Hungary's crude reserves are sufficient to supply the country for 90 days of average consumption, MOL said in a release.

"MOL is prepared to handle the situation; following a possible halt of supplies via the Druzhba pipeline, the reverse of flows on the Adriatic pipeline would become our prime task, which would take some 25-30 days," MOL said.

"Even if the row escalated between Russia and the Ukraine, Hungary's crude supply wouldn't be at threat," MOL added.

For several months from late spring through late summer of 2008, Russia disrupted its oil shipments to the Czech Republic and Slovakia over a dispute concerning transit fees between Moscow and Kiev.

"However, unlike last year's natural gas shipment crises, any possible crude oil shipment disruptions are more easily manageable and there is no need for concerns over insufficient fuel supplies on [the Czech] market," Bartovsky said.



The drive by foreign companies to grab a piece of the action in gas-rich Turkmenistan is reported to be producing some strange bedfellows -- like PetroSaudi, owned by the son of King Abdallah, and Merhav, an Israeli conglomerate run by former intelligence officer Yosef Maiman.

According to Intelligence Online, a Paris-based Web site that covers global security issues, the companies from these longtime Middle Eastern adversaries are negotiating a partnership "through intermediaries" to explore the Serdar field that straddles the border between Turkmenistan and oil-rich Azerbaijan.

It is reported to contain the equivalent of at least 1 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

Turkmenistan is the world's 10th-largest gas producer. The United States, Europe, China, Russia and Iran are all clamoring for access to its vast gas fields.

These contain an estimated 20 trillion cubic meters of natural gas -- enough to supply Europe for 66 years.

Maiman once worked for the Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence service, and is reputedly linked to a network of companies owned by the agency.

He has been moving into Central Asia for some time, spearheading an Israeli effort to secure influence -- and a significant intelligence presence -- in the energy-rich Caspian Sea basin, the economic center of the five former Soviet republics that make up the Muslim region.

The Merhav Group has been involved in Turkmenistan's natural gas industry for years. In 2004 The Jerusalem Post described Maiman, a familiar figure in the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat, as a "leading figure" in Central Asia's gas sector.

According to some reports, Maiman was made a citizen of Turkmenistan by decree of the country's eccentric and authoritarian president, Saparmurad Niyazov, who died of heart disease Dec. 21, 2006.

According to Intelligence Online, Maiman was behind the appointment of Israel's first ambassador to Turkmenistan, Reuven Dinia, by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently. Dinai is another ex-Mossad officer, who once ran its Moscow station until he was expelled in 1996.

Merhav has reportedly dominated foreign business in Turkmenistan, including brokering energy projects in the country.

Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are closely linked to Israeli commercial interests -- not to mention Israeli intelligence -- and Maiman appears to be well-placed to broker an agreement between them over the disputed Serdar field, which Ashgabat and Baku both claim, and secure a contract.

The German-born entrepreneur, who became an Israeli citizen in 1971 and founded Merhav five years later, also has longstanding business links with Saudi Arabia.

These connections may well expand as Israel and Saudi Arabia both find themselves in confrontation with nuclear-wannabe Iran.

Maiman has traveled to Riyadh several times in recent years on his collection of non-Israeli passports.
PetroSaudi, headed by Turki bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, one of the sons of the Saudi monarch, thus may be a front-runner in Turkmenistan if it cements its partnership with Merhav.

They face competition from Total of France, Eni of Italy, Royal Dutch Shell, TNK-BP, Lukoil of Russia and Chevron of the United States.

These companies are being welcomed in Ashgabat because the country was badly hit in April, when Russia suddenly stopped importing Turkmen natural gas.

That slashed Turkmenistan's exports by 84 percent, because Russia was experiencing a gas glut. Without Russia as a customer, Turkmenistan is losing an estimated $1 billion a month.

"Right now Turkmenistan is looking for any energy deal it can make with almost any player, because Russia's sudden halt to natural gas imports has cut off most of Ashgabat's cash flow," according to the U.S.-based security consultancy Stratfor.

Turkmenistan does not have a viable alternative export route and, warns Stratfor, "could go bankrupt if energy revenues do not start coming in from somewhere."

Moscow, which remains the dominant power in Central Asia, is unhappy about Turkmenistan's efforts to bring in new energy partners.

China, with its insatiable appetite for energy to fuel its expanding economy, is likely to take Russia's place. Russia does not want to see any challenge to its influence in Central Asia. Neighboring Iran is another energy-hungry prospect.

"The geography of Central Asia, the competition among its five countries for resources and the increasing competition among outside powers for Central Asian energy seem to indicate that a fight for the region's energy resources in inevitable," according to Stratfor.


MULTI-VECTOR ENERGY POLICY. (Una politica energetica multivettoriale)

Kazakhstan wants to leave politics out of the equation and make a profit when dealing with the transport of hydrocarbons, the country’s foreign minister told five visiting western journalists at his lavish ministry in Astana.

“The fundamental principle from which we are proceeding on exporting our resources is the principle of economic feasibility - no politics there.

We have exported and will be exporting in any direction that is profitable for us,” Kanat Saudabayev said on 23 November. He was responding to a question from New Europe on whether the energy-rich former Soviet republic had any preference over Russian, Chinese or EU-bound projects competing for its rich oil and gas resources.

The relatively new foreign minister reminded that the Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan-China gas pipeline is due to be inaugurated on December 15 and there is already an oil pipeline from western Kazakhstan to western China. Kazakhstan also exports its oil through a whole system of pipelines running through Russia (CPC). Moreover, Kazakhstan ships oil through the Aktau-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline system.

“Given that we will be producing 170 million tons of oil out of which 130 million tons of oil will be available for exports it is in our deep interests to see the multiple export pipelines realized,” Saudabayev said. The bulk of the new volumes would come from Kashagan’s massive oil field, which plans to start commercial production around 2015. “Kazakhstan is and has been turning into a more significant player on the energy market for the European consumers and we will continue to export oil resources through those means that are profitable for us. Kazakhstan as a partner has always been distinguished by its reliability and predictability,” Saudabayev said.

The question is how this oil will be transported. There are several options, including the expansion of the CPC pipeline to Novorossiysk and also using the route to China.

Regarding the issue of bypassing the crowded Bosporus, the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline seems to have stalled. Russia seems to prefer the Samsun-Ceyhan pipeline route through Turkey due to foot-dragging by Bulgaria but also to lure Turkey into supporting the South Stream gas pipeline over Nabucco, Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Uralsib bank, told New Europe from Moscow.

“I assume that both by-pass pipes will eventually be built to cut congestion in the Bosporus. Russia will want to send more shipping with non-oil cargos via the narrow channel as it expands the economy and operations at Novorossiysk port. So it needs to divert as much oil into pipes as possible as quickly as possible,” Weafer said. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev supported Samsun–Ceyhan during his latest visit to Turkey.

Asked by New Europe if Kazakhstan was economically interested in the Nabucco pipeline, Kazakhstan’s Minister of Economic Affairs and Budget Planning Bakhyt Sultanov said that his country is interested in different ways to export its oil and gas resources. “In the case of Nabucco the main question is resources. If we’ll have resources we can sell through Russia, through Nabucco, though our partners,” he said at the sidelines of a forum to discuss Kazakhstan’s OSCE chairmanship and its priorities.

For now, it seems as if Nabucco has been out-maneuvered by Russia and China and is in real danger of having nowhere to turn to for gas supplies. “The commercial case for South Stream and Nabucco looks increasingly unsound,” Weafer said. “They are both now political projects.”


COMRADE NURSULTAN (Il compagno Nursultan)

The Kazakh leader has negotiated to his colleague Giorgio Napolitano. The Presidents have discussed a wide range of issues. In particular, they have talked about the energy security of Europe and the special role of our republic in this issue. In addition, the heads of states have identified key directions of bilateral cooperation both in economic and political spheres. Italy is the third largest trading partner of Kazakhstan and the principal in the European Union. The Presidents have reported they are to sign an agreement on strategic partnership between Kazakhstan and Italy. This is a landmark event in the history of bilateral relations.

Giorgio Napolitano, President of the Italian Republic:
- Kazakhstan is a key state in Central Asia. Your republic is of exceptional importance for Europe, especially in matters of energy security. You will lead the OSCE the next year and it is a very important factor and a new stage in the development and strengthening of OSCE. I think that the status of the OSCE will rise from now on. I completely support the initiative of Nursultan Nazarbayev to convene, the OSCE heads of states for the big summit the next year. This is an excellent idea, because Kazakhstan is an example for the whole world. You have renounced nuclear weapons and you managed to create a tolerant society. It is very important in our time.

Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan:
- The Italian state is a major economic partner in the EU. One third of our trade turnover with Europe accounted for Italy. This is more than 14 billion dollars. Over the years, investments of Italian companies amounted to $4.5 billions, but the Kazakh companies have invested $1,5 billion.


Eni SpA (E, ENI.MI) Thursday said it signed a cooperation deal with KazMunaiGas for activities in Kazakhstan, as Italy's biggest energy company by revenue aims to boost its presence in the hydrocarbon-rich Caspian country.

The two companies signed a deal to jointly study the Isatay and Shagala exploration areas in the Caspian Sea, as well as industrial activities in Kazakhstan including a natural-gas sweetening plant, a gas-turbine power plant and the upgrading of the Pavlodar refinery.

Final investment decisions on these projects are expected within two years after the completion of detailed studies, Eni said.

The cooperation accord was signed in Rome in the presence of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Eni is present in Kazakhstan with the large Kashagan oil field, which has been hit by delays and cost overruns. The company is also a cooperator in the Karachaganak field.


BERLUSCONI'S MOST IMPORTANT FLIRT (Il flirt più importante di Berlusconi)

Silvio Berlusconi and Vladimir Putin, meeting in St Petersburg, have given new impetus to the race to supply gas to Europe. The Italian prime minister is joining his Russian counterpart in pushing the South Stream project over another pipeline backed by the EU. The announcement followed discussions by video phone with Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

South Stream, said Putin, had to be constructed quicker than North Stream, a third pipeline that will run under the Baltic Sea and then pass through Scandinavia. The Russian premier said it was possible because the three countries already had experience working together on another building project on Turkish soil, the Blue Stream construction.

South Stream is a joint project involving Russia’s Gazprom and Italy’s ENI. After running under the Black Sea, two possible routes are being studied to supply gas to western Europe.
The agreement was sealed back in August during a one-day visit by Vladimir Putin to Ankara. The Turkish prime minister said he saw South Stream as a parallel rather than a rival project to the EU-backed Nabucco pipeline – as both would be needed in the future.


The three leaders had a comprehensive talk concerning the South Stream pipeline project, which is to be constructed jointly by Russia’s Gazprom and Italy’s Eni. Putin remarked that issues with Turkey had been resolved, referring to the announcement earlier this week of Turkey’s decision to allow geological exploration in its Black Sea economic zone as part of the South Stream project.

Berlusconi, who is currently in Russia, mentioned on Wednesday the cooperation between Turkey and Italy in the field of technology and the helicopter manufacturing plant that is being established in Turkey through an equal partnership between Italy’s Agusta and a Turkish company. Italy is ready to establish similar partnerships with Russia, too, he added. Berlusconi had also attended talks during Putin’s visit to Ankara on Aug. 6.

PM Erdoğan held a teleconference with Russian and Italian prime ministers on energy issues.
Earlier this week, Turkey, Russia and Italy signed a memorandum of understanding on the Samsun-Ceyhan oil pipeline in Milan. The project will be carried out by the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline Company (TAPCO) in which Italian energy company Eni and Turkish company Çalık Energy each hold a 50 percent stake.

The South Stream project is set to eventually run from Russia to Bulgaria under the Black Sea before delivering gas to consumers in Europe. The pipeline, with an annual capacity of 63 billion cubic meters, is planned to be operational in 2016, costing $11.6 billion.



Construction of 'Eskene-Kuryk' pipeline will be financed by French side on debt basis. Following the results of negotiations N. Nazarbayev and N. Sarkozy have signed a number of documents in oil-gas, space, military and atomic spheres today in Akorda.

"We agreed that the French side will take part in construction project of the export-oil-trunk pipeline. It is an extremely important project which is one of the principal artery of the transport system of the Kazakhstan's oil to Europe", - N. Nazarbayev said at the press-conference following the results of negotiations with N. Sarkozy.

Among signed documents are Memorandum on mutual understanding between Kazmunaigaz and SPIKAPAG Company on 'Eskene-Kuryk' pipeline. The document was signed by Chairman of Kazmunaigaz Kairgeldy Kabyldin and President of "Antrepoz Contracting" Dominic Bouvie.

As is known 'Eskene-Kuryk' is oriented firstly at Kashagan deposit.

According to Kazakh Minister of Energy and Mineral Recourses Sauat Mynbayev the amount of financing will be known after preparation of the project. "At the moment the limit amounted to USD 2.5 bln", - the Minister said. He also informed that 'Eskene-Kuryk' pipeline will be Kazakhstan's property.

President of France Nicolas Sarkozy has arrived with official visit to Kazakhstan on Tuesday. During his official visit N. Sarkozy met with the President of Kazakhstan in his residence. The President of France has acquainted with the master plan of the capital in the Palace of Independence.


France and Kazakhstan have signed energy and business deals worth $6bn (£3.8bn) during a visit to Astana by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Kazakhstan has large oil and gas fields and is Central Asia’s largest economy.

Among several accords signed between the two countries, Kazakstan’s Kazmunaigaz and France’s SPIE CAPAG (Entrepose Contracting) singed a draft agreement running from Eskene, onshore near Tengiz, to the port of Kuryk, near Aqtau.

This pipeline is part of the Caspian Transportation System. This pipeline will carry oil to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, turning it into the Aqtau-Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, going to the Turkish Mediterranean coast.


ASTANA SEEN FROM ROMANIA (Astana vista dalla Romania)

The State Secretary of the Romanian Ministry of Economy, Tudor Sherban, spoke in an interview with Trend Capital correspondent.

Cooperation in energy was discussed during the eighth session of the Kazakh-Romanian inter-governmental commission on trade and economic cooperation in Astana today. You mentioned two projects - "Nabucco" and "Constanta - Trieste".

How does Romania appreciate Kazakhstan's participation in two these projects?

We think that the role of Kazakhstan in the Nabucco project is very important. Kazakhstan has its own gas reserves. It is known that Kazakhstan participates in some projects in Turkmenistan. So, certain gas reserves can be directed to the "Nabucco" from there.

Moreover, part of those gas volumes, which are under contracts with Russia, can be also supplied to "Nabucco". But it will be possible with the consent of all parties. The recent visit of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to Turkey encourages on this regards.

As Romania is involved in "Nabucco", I think that it will be possible to agree in coordination with other partners given other projects which Russia promotes in our region (the Balkans).

Azerbaijan is important partner for us in the Caspian region. it is our reliable gas supplier. We know that Azerbaijan has expressed its intention to participate with its gas in the Nabucco project. We welcome and fully support this decision. Moreover, Azerbaijan has strategically important location in the junction of transportation routes.

I would like to inform that Romania has plans to build a new terminal in Constanta for liquefied gas storage.

How do you appreciate Kazakhstan's participation in the project pipeline 'Constanta - Trieste'?

The Kazakh side made a request to participate in the negotiations on the project a year ago. It means for us that Kazakhstan is interested in participating in this project. At present, the project of "Constanta - Trieste" pipeline is at the stage of organizing. A consortium has been already established and its head has been appointed. But, unfortunately, one of the participants of the project - Croatia has blocked the course of negotiations and actions.

But the issue concerning drawing investments will occur soon, when goals of each company from the countries-participants of the project, through which the pipeline is laid, are defined.

From our point of view, Kazakhstan will be able to participate in this project, along with Romania. If it enters with investments, it will automatically mean that Kazakhstan can have certain package of shares.

What Kazakh share is indicated in the project?

It is difficult to name any specific figure without development of feasibility study. But when it is ready, it will be known about shares of all sides after determining the cost. Kazakhstan will be able to join the project as oil supplier in future. Thus, Kazakhstan can enter the center of Europe through Romania, providing its oil via Constanta - Trieste pipeline.

It dealt with establishment of energy bridge of Batumi - Constanta at one time. What are its prospects?

We hope that the geopolitical climate in the South Caucasus will stabilize. Georgia has great importance to ensure transit routes and gas, oil and other goods supplies, to Europe. We hope that the situation will normalize, because one can not talk about politics without economy, and Batumi is an important transportation hub in the region.

Moreover, the Black Sea and Batumi port are direct access to Europe. Therefore, stabilization of the situation in Georgia is in interests of the same Caspian countries to have direct access to the Black Sea.

How do you assess entry of the national KazMunaiGaz on the Romanian market by buying shares of Rompetrol?

Positively. At present, our companies, including the national oil company, OMV, faced with fierce competition in the person of KMG. But these are the laws of the market. It is very good. As a recommendation, I would like to advise KMG to be more transparent with the Romanian public authorities.


THE NEW UKRAINE (La nuova Ucraina)

Gazprom on Wednesday opened a new pipeline across Lithuania that will allow the Russian gas company to increase supplies to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave between Lithuania and Poland.

It will also allow Gazprom to boost natural gas supplies to Lithuania, which is braced for an energy deficit after it closes a Soviet-era nuclear plant in December.

The opening of the pipeline — dubbed Red Junction — took place amid much fanfare near the Susepe River, located on the border between Lithuania and the Kaliningrad region.

The pipeline stretches 139 kilometers (86 miles) and will have a total annual capacity of 2.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas. Valery Golubev, Gazprom's deputy CEO, said the pipeline would allow the company to double gas supplies to the Kaliningrad region.

Viktoras Valentukevicius, head of Lithuania's gas company Lietuvos Dujos, said the pipeline was essential for the Baltic state.

"Natural gas will become a key energy resource for our country for decades. This line is very important for Lithuania as a guarantee of stable energy supplies from Russia," he said.

Lietuvos Dujos is 38.9 percent owned by Gazprom, the world's largest natural gas producer.

Many Lithuanians are apprehensive about the increasing reliance on Russian gas that the new pipeline signifies. In December Lithuania will shut down its Soviet-era reactor in Ignalina, which practically overnight will transform the Baltic state of 3.4 million people from a net energy exporter to an energy importer.

Since the country has no direct link to the European electricity grid, it has no choice but to import more energy from Russia.

But Moscow's snap decisions in the past to cut off supplies to Ukraine and Belarus, make many Lithuanians fear that Russia is an unreliable energy supplier.

"Vilnius should not forget that the Kremlin is using Gazprom not only as economic, but also a very efficient political tool," said Raimundas Lopata, director of the International Relations and Political Science Institute in Vilnius.

Gazprom said it expects to make the first shipments of gas in the new pipeline in December.
(Kyiv Post)


SUSPICIOUS SILENCE. (Silenzio sospetto)

The recent signing of the Nabucco pipeline project is definitely a political rather than economic deal. Its feasibility, the probability of its actual construction and its profitability aside, the deal shows clearly that, at least for the present, those who want to see a weaker Russia prevail over those who would rather see it strong and an integral part of the West. It is also obvious that without heavy Washington lobbying the Nabucco pipeline would never take off. Since there is practically no economic interest for the U.S. in it, Washington politics make the direction of the much advertised "reset" quite uncertain.

In the last 20 years since the collapse of communism every U.S. president has kept repeating that it is in American interests to see Russia as a strong, democratic, and prosperous nation. But actions rarely suit the words. Washington needs, and often gets, Moscow’s cooperation on major security issues, but then it turns around and does its damnedest not only to prevent “non-democratic” and “authoritarian” Moscow from becoming an energy superpower, but to make sure that it gets as little cash as possible -- by diverting this cash to former Soviet republics where democracy is so rudimentary as to be barely discernible, while Oriental despotism, sometimes hereditary, is very much in evidence. So much for the hugely advertised U.S. democracy promotion mission.

OK, let us forget about democracy and get to real things. Has in the end Russia lost this round? What about another important problem for Nabucco - the Iranian connection? It is more or less obvious that this new pipeline will be extremely difficult to fill. If one excludes Russian and Iranian gas it would be practically impossible to do. That is why Turkey insisted that both Russia and Iran should be on the list of gas suppliers but then the whole idea of Nabucco of eliminating Russia from the supply equation did not materialize. Pretty soon the Nabucco lobbyists will have to face squarely some unpleasant questions: Why we should spend billions to enrich Iran or Russia? The next question will be what if both Russia and Iran say that they are not interested since they already have other gas delivery contracts through different routes? Will Nabucco actually bring Russia and Iran closer together to manipulate not only the gas supply line but geopolitics?

Russia provided so much help to U.S. and NATO in Afghanistan. It can do a lot more in Iran since practically the whole Iranian nuclear program is dependent on Russia, which makes RF the best guarantor of it being used for peaceful rather than military purposes.

Of course, Russia made a mistake in accepting Ahmadinejad’s claim for victory in the recent elections a bit too soon. The Iranian opposition is not crushed yet, and the final outcome is not too certain. More and more political leaders and even mullahs are switching sides. The Kremlin would be well advised to show some restraint or at least neutrality, to avoid a future backlash.

Another interesting observation is that Ukrainians, Poles and Balts are suspiciously quiet. They were quite vocal in protesting against the Nord Stream Project to connect Russia with Germany through the Baltic Sea. Ukraine was the most vocal opponent since Nord Stream will bypass it, thus depriving Kiev of the much needed currency and of any chance of blackmailing Russia by delaying gas payments. The Nabucco pipeline -- if it is ever built, of course -- will also bypass Ukraine, but so far it looks like their leaders do not seem to mind. Moreover, they are cheerleading it, so is there some secret protocol to Nabucco regarding Ukraine?

To sum up, the way things are now, the Nabucco project may end up as a hot air balloon, for its economics are pretty questionable while the politics surrounding it smells very bad indeed.

However, one good thing for Russia is that Nabucco should force it to be more aggressive in building the alternative Nord Stream and South Stream pipelines and at the same time spare no effort on its economy diversification so as not to depend too much on its natural resources.
As for Nabucco cheer leaders it is to early for them to celebrate. At the present time I’d not advise to buy the pipeline stocks to anyone but instead want to repeat to some narrow-minded folks that it is a lot more advantageous to have Russia as a friend rather than foe.
(Russia Blog)


RUSSIAN-TURKISH BARGAINING CHIPS (Merce di scambio russo-turca)

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's August 6 visit to Ankara marked a new era for "enhanced multi-dimensional partnership," between Ankara and Moscow. Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed some twenty agreements covering energy, trade and other fields. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also attended part of the talks between Erdogan and Putin, considering the involvement of Italian companies in some of these projects. The most remarkable dimension of the various joint projects concerns energy cooperation, most notably Turkey's expression of support for Russia's South Stream project.

In oil transportation, Russia committed to participate in the planned Samsun-Ceyhan pipeline (SCP), connecting the Turkish Black Sea city of Samsun to the Mediterranean terminal Ceyhan. Turkey has solicited Russian participation in the SCP, which will bypass the congested Turkish Straits. Moscow has proven reluctant, and has instead promoted another bypass option through Burgas-Alexandroupolis between Bulgaria and Greece. Meanwhile, Turkey took further steps to make the SCP attractive for the Russian side, by linking this project with the Turkish-Israeli-Indian energy partnership.

Erdogan expressed his pleasure with the Russian decision to commit its crude. Ankara can consider this development as its greatest success in this grand bargain, given that Turkey has worked to convert Ceyhan, where the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline also terminates, into a global energy hub. However, Putin did not rule out interest in Burgas-Alexandroupolis, and instead emphasized that the two pipelines might be complementary in meeting the growing demand for export routes. This statement raises questions about how committed Russia will be to the SCP, given that Russian companies own the majority of shares in the other Burgas-Alexandroupolis option.

In terms of gas cooperation, Turkey will allow Russia to conduct explorations and feasibility studies in the Turkish exclusive economic zone in the Black Sea, as part of Russian plans to construct South Stream. Since this move comes against the background of Turkey's decision to sign the rival Nabucco pipeline agreement last month, it raises many questions, as to how it will affect Nabucco, which Turkey considers a "strategic priority," as well as European energy security issues. Despite the questions surrounding its feasibility and high costs, as well as its negative implications for Nabucco, Erdogan maintained that both projects contribute to diversification efforts.

It appears that the "grand bargain" was between the SCP and Blue Stream. Ahead of the meeting, Yuri Ushakov, the Deputy Head of the Russian Government Staff said that "Turkey made concessions in South Stream and we made concessions in SCP," but added that he had doubts over the SCP's feasibility. A statement from Berlusconi's office also claimed that he had helped broker a rapprochement between both countries on these two issues. However, domestically, there are concerns that in this "exchange" of concessions, Turkey did not gain much. The SCP's importance was inflated, because it was developed by business interests close to the government. Another gas deal concerned Ankara's request to renew the contract under which it purchases Russian gas through the Western pipeline via the Balkans. Erdogan announced that the contract (which expires in 2011) will be renewed for 20 years. Turkey had complained about the high prices and the leave-or-pay conditions in its gas deals with Russia. Putin said it was renewed on favorable terms to Turkey, but the contract's details are unclear.

Erdogan also said that they discussed the extension of Blue Stream II to transport Russian gas to Israel, Lebanon and even Cyprus. Blue Stream, running underneath the Black Sea, is the second route carrying Russian gas to Turkey. Moscow previously raised the possibility that it could use Blue Stream II in order to transport gas to Europe, but this option was rejected, since it contradicted Nabucco and Russia sought to use Turkey only as a transportation route. Now, Ankara wants to revive it as part of a North-South corridor. Based on the leaders' statements, it appears that the existing capacity of Blue Stream might be improved and gas could be transferred to the Mediterranean through this pipeline.

However, although Erdogan praised this development as another major success, there is no guarantee that Russia will grant "re-export rights," which indicates that if Blue Stream II is implemented, Moscow will continue to view Turkish territory as a mere conduit for its gas, which raises the question: how will Turkey benefit from the agreement? Russian priorities also involve Turkey's first nuclear power plant tender, which was awarded to a Russian-Turkish consortium. As the original price was too high, the tender has long awaited cabinet approval. Meanwhile, the Russian side lowered the price, and offered a compromise. Prior to Putin's visit, it was expected that with further "bargaining," a final deal might be reached, but apparently it failed. Nevertheless, Ankara and Moscow signed protocols regarding energy cooperation, including the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, early notification of accidents, exchange of information on facilities, and to continue talks on the nuclear tender.

The most controversial development is perhaps Ankara's support for South Stream. Erdogan reiterated his belief that Nabucco and South Stream are complementary, yet turned a blind eye to several Russian officials' (including Putin) statements to the contrary. It is assumed in Ankara that growing European energy demand will accommodate both projects; but this ignores the competition between both projects over the same downstream markets. Moreover, the Turkish side fails to appreciate the challenges Russia is facing in investing in its domestic gas industry, and acts on the assumption that "Russia has enormous reserves," while failing to realize that Russia is also planning to tap into the same upstream producers, namely Central Asian and Caspian gas, just as the Nabucco project envisages.

Putin also added that a consensus was reached on Russia building gas storage facilities in the Salt Lake. Taken together with the announced joint investments between Turkish and Russian firms, including Gazprom, it is unclear whether the Turkish government recognizes the consequences of these decisions. Russia has effectively used the practice of co-opting the gas infrastructure of transport and consumer countries, as part of its efforts to monopolize downstream markets. It is unclear how this penetration into the Turkish grid might affect Ankara's future energy policies.


LET THE COURT DECIDE (Lasciamo decidere la corte)

The unexpected and sudden renewal of the Turkmen-Azerbaijani dispute over three hydrocarbon fields in the middle of the Caspian Sea is the latest setback to the European Union's Nabucco gas-pipeline project.

An argument over ownership of the Caspian fields had soured Turkmen-Azerbaijani relations for more than a decade. But over the last two years, representatives of the two countries -- prodded by EU and U.S. officials -- had been meeting regularly, reviving hopes that Nabucco could be realized.

Those hopes took a hit on July 24 when Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov cited a report from Deputy Foreign Minister Toyly Komekov during a cabinet meeting.

Berdymukhammedov said the report showed that the impasse over the demarcation of the Caspian seabed between the two countries has remained unresolved "due to Azerbaijan's specific position. The main reason behind this situation is that there are mineral deposits located exactly in the disputed areas of the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan claims ownership of these deposits, including the deposit known as Promezhutochnoyee during the Soviet era and which we now call our Serdar deposit."

Berdymukhammedov went on to mention the Omar and Osman fields, which he said Azerbaijan is already exploring but which, he claimed, "belong to us." The Turkmen president expressed regret that 16 bilateral meetings had not resolved the issue and then instructed Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov to take the issue to "the International Court of Arbitration."

That could present a major obstacle to the European Union's Nabucco plans. The proposed 3,300-kilometer pipeline starts at Georgia's western border and then heads toward Europe via Turkey. Nabucco wants to include Central Asian gas in the pipeline, particularly gas from Turkmenistan, which has one of the world's largest reserves of natural gas.

For some 15 years now the plan was to construct a "trans-Caspian" pipeline along the Caspian seabed from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan, where it would be join a pipeline leading to Georgia's western border. But the dispute between Ashgabat and Baku over ownership of the three Caspian fields made construction of this pipeline impossible.

The recent warming of ties between the two countries, including a visit by Berdymukhammedov to Baku last year, raised hopes the pipeline could finally be built.

On state television on July 25, Deputy Foreign Minister Xalaf Xalafov indicated Azerbaijan was prepared to have a court decide on the ownership issue. "We believe that we are ready to defend Azerbaijan's position and rights on all levels," Xalafov said.

Ilham Shaban, an Azerbaijan-based energy expert and the editor of the "Turan Energy" daily newsletter, tells RFE/RL's Turkmen Service that after years of this dispute, a court ruling may be the most "civilized" means of ending the stalemate.

"And to take this matter before a court is a natural step and we also hope the court will render a fair verdict," Shaban says.

Shaban adds that a resolution of the ownership question could then pave the way for dramatic improvement in Turkmen-Azerbaijani ties, which in turn opens up the way for projects like Nabucco. Nabucco foresees that the lion's share of the proposed 31 billion cubic meters of gas for the pipeline would come from Turkmenistan.

"I feel that this court will render a decision that will bring our countries even closer together if Ashgabat and Baku will observe and accept the decision of the International Arbitration Court," he says.

Shaban concedes that if the two countries do not show flexibility and maintain the rigid posturing that has marred bilateral ties for so long, the court case could drag on for years and endanger the construction of the trans-Caspian pipeline and also Nabucco.


RELY ON ALIYEV (Dipendere da Aliyev)

On July 13, the EU and Turkey signed what's been hailed as a historic deal to start work on the Nabucco pipeline, which is designed to give Europe an alternative to the unreliable supply of natural gas from Russia's Gazprom.

On paper, it's simple. By 2014, the Nabucco pipeline should be complete, and Azerbaijan will be the first, or at least among the first, to begin shipping gas to Europe at a modest rate of 8 billion cubic meters (bcm) per year.

The pipeline -- which will run 3,300 kilometers from eastern Turkey, through the Balkans, and finally to Austria -- should be fully operational by 2020, at which time it is expected to be pumping 31 bcm of gas to Europe each year, or approximately 10 percent of Europe's annual gas consumption.

That would relieve Europe of the risk of relying on Russia for gas, although the EU says that's not the point. But privately, EU officials say the continent has to find an alternative source, given Russia's recurring price disputes with transit country Ukraine that last winter left Europe struggling with a gas shortage.

Yet there are questions as to whether Azerbaijan can meet its annual commitment of gas. Baku says it has enough to get the pipeline going, but estimates of its reserves are just that: estimates.

Stephen Blank, who is a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Army War College, says the issue is not whether Azerbaijan has an adequate supply of gas to get Nabucco started, but whether the country can afford to finish the project and will be able to resist pressure from Russia.

While Blank acknowledges that one issue is the question whether the Nabucco project has the financial muscle to "give their suppliers credible guarantees that a pipeline can be built from their country, through the Caspian Sea or [somewhere] else [in] Europe, and will it stand up to Russia?

"It looks like it will stand up to Russia, but the financing has to be there," he continues. "These are arranged marriages, and like arranged marriages, they're supposed to last a long time, so they take a long time to negotiate."

Blank says these political and economic risks merge into one overall risk: That Russia may persuade Azerbaijan to withhold its gas from Nabucco, and as a result, perhaps no one in the region will step up to supply financing for the pipeline.

If that happens, he says, Russia will have won a significant battle in what he calls an economic war that Russia has been waging on Europe.

"If Nabucco can't be built, [Russia's] South Stream [pipeline project] or the Russian pipeline through Ukraine and Belarus become the only option to the south. And Russia gets the ability to play the great power game and leverage its power in Europe as a gas power," Blank notes.

He says Moscow has "nothing else they can use [but] a lot of economic and political intrigue. It's nasty, it's brutal, but it's mainly economic. It's not guns and troops moving over borders. But it's hard power."

Azerbaijan isn't the only source of gas for Nabucco. EU officials are reluctant to discuss alternatives to Azerbaijan, but they have to be considered, says Kenneth Green, who studies energy issues at the American Enterprise Institute, a private Washington policy center.

But Green stresses that not all alternatives can be considered equally, either because of how much -- or little -- gas they can generate, and for political reasons as well.

He points to Iran and Iraq as good examples. Both are said to have generous gas reserves, but for the immediate future, he says, Iraq is a far more reliable source of gas than Iran, at least from a political standpoint.

"We have an interest in helping Iraq get back on its feet and realize revenues for rebuilding through [the] sale of natural gas and because they are, at least titularly now, they're a democratic regime that's going to be friendly to the West. One has a greater expectation that they won't play games politically with the supply," Green says.

"But when you have Iran, which is under sanctions already because of its nuclear program, is making threats to U.S. allies and to European allies -- I mean, going from Gazprom to depending on Iran is like going from the frying pan into the fire."

Green says it's also possible that, given its recent electoral trouble, Iran, too, may have a change of government and become a reliable source of gas, even if its foreign policy were to remain contrary to Western interests. That's because now, Iran lets ideology rule its economy.

Iran can maintain its current ideology -- including a harsh foreign policy toward Israel, plus support for militant groups such as Hamas and Hizballah -- if it separates politics from economics. In other words, it could do business with the EU, with which it has strong disagreements, as long as it makes a profit doing so.

Iran aside, Green says other Caspian states -- Kazakhstan and, in particular, Turkmenistan -- might be even better alternatives to Azerbaijan than Iran. But these countries also are former Soviet republics, and Russia may be able to persuade them to run their gas through Russian pipelines, not through Nabucco.

Like Blank, Green says there are so many options, so many countries, and so many other variables involved that it would be foolhardy to try to anticipate what will happen with Nabucco -- even whether it will eventually be built.


WILL THEY PLAY NABUCCO? (Suoneranno il Nabucco?)

A raft of transit agreements to be signed on Monday by the architects of the planned Nabucco natural gas pipeline will give some much-needed shape to the pipeline which has been delayed due to infighting.

But critics of the 7.9 billion euro ($11 billion) pipeline, which plans to pump 31 billion cubic metres of natural gas to Europe by 2014, say the meeting will do little to stop a Russian-backed pipeline from gaining ground on the Europe-backed project.

The agreement will be signed by five members of the six-country Nabucco consortium through which the pipeline is planned to run. They are: Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria. The sixth country, Germany, does not have a transit role.

The five transit countries are likely to agree on a series of legally binding conditions as well as agree on where the pipeline will begin. Turkey has demanded that the line start near Ankara, but other possibilities include Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Security for the pipeline will also be ironed out in the agreement, an important condition for easternmost Nabucco member Turkey, which will be responsible for preventing attacks on the pipeline. Last year the ethnic separatist group Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) carried out an attack on the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, halting supplies.

One of the thorniest issues that has not yet been worked out is a demand from the Turkish side for the right to use 15 percent of its gas for domestic use or for re-export. That issue will all but certainly not be resolved in this agreement, but rather will be worked out separately.

Turkey's Energy Minister Taner Yildiz has said Turkey will not back down from the demand, but the European Energy Commission has also stated that the demand is unacceptable. Analysts say the demand makes the pipeline commercially unfeasible as supply countries will be unwilling to sell discounted gas to Turkey.

Nabucco was conceived as a way to decrease Europe's dependence on Russian natural gas after Moscow turned off its gas to Ukraine in 2006 in what was seen at the time as a political conflict. Fear of future suppliers using energy as a political weapon strengthened the case for the Nabucco.

Monday's agreements, although they will not address the more divisive issues, will most likely boost investor sentiment in the plan, which is suffering due to the economic global downturn and lack of gas throughput supplies for the line.

Nabucco may also gain more seriousness in the eyes of gas suppliers. "It might come as a good sign for countries that will be potential suppliers, giving them an indication that Nabucco is more serious than they might have thought," said Ana Jelenkovic at Eurasia Group.

Working out Turkey's 15 percent demands, however, would help put the Nabucco substantially ahead of the Russian-backed South Stream pipeline in that the Nabucco Consortium could then begin work on the open season, when firms buy up portions of the pipeline's capacity for consumers.

The South Stream, which has increased its capacity expectations to 63 billion cubic metres, edged ahead of Nabucco late last month when gas-producer Azerbaijan said it would give Russia priority in buying gas when the second phase of its Shakh-Deniz gas production project came online.

No concrete deals have yet been signed for Nabucco, and none are expected to be signed until all transit details are worked out among its members. A lack of supply agreements have hampered political will and financing, analysts say.

The Nabucco Consortium has mentioned Egypt, Azerbaijan and possibly Russia and Turkmenistan as sources for gas. Iran can participate in the pipeline if Washington normalises relations with Tehran, the U.S. Secretary of State's Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy said earlier this year.

ALL EYES ON ANKARA (Occhi puntati su Ankara)

Azerbaijan, once the cradle of Russia's fledgling oil industry, wants the best deal possible for the natural gas craved by European consumers keen to reduce their energy dependence on Moscow.

But Europe needs assurances that gas from below the Caspian Sea will flow through costly new pipelines. Resolving the political stalemate, including a key transit deal with Turkey, will determine when Azerbaijan can start pumping more gas. "We are increasingly seeing infrastructure projects that are driven by politics, not business," said Sveinung Dankel, Statoil Hydro Azerbaijan's lead negotiator for gas transportation.

"The Nabucco project is a case in point. Clearly an important link is missing: the sourcing of gas," he said.

Azerbaijan, which plans to produce 45 percent more gas by 2015, could potentially supply much of the gas to fill the Western-backed Nabucco pipeline, an alternative route for European consumers reliant on Russia for a quarter of their gas.

But Azerbaijan, which has yet to agree on the amount of gas Turkey would take from the pipeline, has other options. As well as other routes through the 'Southern Corridor' to Europe, Baku could also sell its gas to Russia, Georgia or Iran.

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, addressing the 16th Caspian International Oil and Gas Conference in Baku this week, said the energy sector had become very politicised.

"If we are negotiating sales and purchase contracts, the price should be reasonable. If the issue of transit is on the table, we should also get a reasonable price," Aliyev said.

For Western producers and consumers alike, the delays are a cause for concern.

The second phase of the Shah Deniz field could potentially supply 16 billion cubic metres a year, half of Nabucco's planned capacity, but project leaders StatoilHydro and BP cannot commit to a start date until contracts are signed.

"First come the politics, then comes the industry. Set the framework and the industry will do the rest," said Robert Klein, managing director of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, an alternative route to southern Europe.

"This is what politics can do: a clear statement in Azerbaijan that gas is flowing to Europe; a clear statement from Turkey about transit terms and conditions; a clear statement from the EU that it's bringing in gas from new resources in the Caspian region."

Azeri state energy firm Socar says gas production could rise to 34 billion cubic metres by 2015 from 23.4 bcm last year. Annual exports could exceed 30 bcm within 10 to 15 years, said Kristian Hausken, president of StatoilHydro Azerbaijan.

Europe will need to import between 400 and 450 bcm annually by 2020, up from 267 bcm in 2007, said Elio Ruggeri, business development director at Edison SpA and project director for another pipeline alternative, ITGI.

The Caspian region could supply about half of the additional volumes, he said, with Azerbaijan in pole position to start flows ahead of Turkmenistan and other Central Asian states.

Interest in Azeri gas, particularly from the second phase of Shah Deniz, is strong. Elshad Nasirov, vice-president for investment and marketing at Azeri state energy firm Socar, said Russia, Iran and Georgia had all offered to buy the field's gas.

"We will consider all proposals," Nasirov told Reuters. Socar is also a shareholder in Shah Deniz, as well as Russia's LUKOIL, France's Total and Iranian and Turkish state firms.

Observers say a transit deal between Azerbaijan and Turkey will play a large role in determining whether Azeri gas will flow into Nabucco or other European pipelines, or north into Russia -- an option the Shah Deniz partners have not discounted.

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said this week Ankara had not given up its demand to take 15 percent of the gas to be carried by the Nabucco pipeline, either for domestic demand or for re-export. Azerbaijan has previously opposed such a plan.

"It's critical that Azerbaijan and Turkey reach an agreement on pricing and on transit in the near future that will give confidence to the project," said Richard Morningstar, the U.S. Secretary of State's Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy.

A partner in the Shah Deniz project, speaking on condition of anonymity, was more blunt: "If we don't reach agreement with Turkey, we'll sell to Russia."


ASSAULT AT PAVLODAR (Assalto a Pavlodar)

KazMunaiGas (KMG) is still in talks with Central Asia Petroleum, an Indonesian company which controls the Pavlodar oil refinery, trying to close the deal that would give the national oil company control over the downstream assets in Kazakhstan.

In April, Central Asia Petroleum, a murky entity with supposed ties to Kazakh leadership, agreed to sell its upstream assets to a joint venture of KMG and Chinese CNPC for $3.3 billion. These exploration assets were part of MangistauMunaiGas, an independent vertically integrated oil company, whose other assets included a 58-percent stake in the Pavlodar oil refinery and a network of gasoline stations operating under the brand Helios.

MangistauMunaiGas was one of the largest independent oil producers in Kazakhstan, and its acquisition was a coup for both the Chinese and the Kazakh side, eager to increase their reserves. The Pavlodar refinery, however, was excluded from the deal, leading to speculation over who will gain control over the valuable downstream asset, or rather, who will join KMG in managing the refinery.

Analysts estimate the market value of the refinery at $600-700 million. A similar sum would probably be needed to modernize the plant. KMG, while eager to solidify its control over Kazakhstan’s refining assets, may have to rely on a deep-pocketed partner to complete the acquisition and much needed modernization.

In the last twelve years, the refinery underwent numerous changes in ownership. In 1997, the Kazakh government awarded a five-year concession to operate the plant to CCL Oil Ltd., an unknown oil company registered in Connecticut but rumored to be run by a group of ethnic Korean businessman from Kazakhstan. At that time, the state owned 82 percent of the plant while the remaining 12 percent were owned by its employees. Shortly after awarding the concession, however, the government transferred the asset to Kazakhoil, a state-owned predecessor of KazMunaiGas, and power struggle over control over the company ensued. In 1999, CCL Oil Ltd. found itself on the losing side of the battle and was stripped of the concession, ostensibly for failing to fulfill its contractual obligations. Later that year, 58 percent of the company has been quietly transferred to MangistauMunaiGas, reportedly as a barter payment to cover government’s debt with the company.

The Pavlodar oil refinery, constructed in 1978, currently has capacity of about five million tons of crude oil per year. This is almost 30 percent below its original capacity of seven million tons due to wear and poor maintenance. Even then, the plant does not operate at full capacity and refined only 4.27 million tons of crude oil in 2008.

Nonetheless, as the largest and most modern refining facility in Kazakhstan, it produces more than 50 percent of high-octane fuels. Among its products are high-octane gasoline (93 RON and 05 RON), diesel and heating fuel, mazut, liquid gas etc. Automobile gasoline and diesel fuel make up the largest share of its production. In 2008, the refinery produced about 1.2 million tons of gasoline, almost 50 percent of the country’s entire production. However, its products do not comply with the strict international standards which have gradually begun to be introduced in Kazakhstan.

Moreover, the refinery’s location in Pavlodar, near the Russian border in northern Kazakhstan, makes it logistically difficult to refine Kazakh crude produced in western Kazakhstan, where most of the country’s oil production is located. In fact, during the Soviet times, the plant refined almost exclusively Russian crude from the West Siberian oil fields.

Analysts warn that by 2014 Kazakhstan’s existing refining capacity will be insufficient to satisfy the growing demands for refined oil products. In the last two years, Kazakhstan has already experienced localized shortages despite its vast hydrocarbon wealth, leading to calls for government intervention. The modernization of the country’s refining industry is therefore a priority of the government.

Russian Gazprom Neft and LUKOIL, Indian ONGC and Chinese CNPC figured early as potential partners for the project. A Russian company would be a logical partner given the traditional ties of the Pavlodar refinery to the Russian oil industry. At the same time, however, China’s state-run oil companies may be the only ones willing and able to invest billions in Kazakhstan’s downstream assets. China has already advanced $10 billion in loans to Kazakhstan this year to gain a stronger foothold in the country’s oil industry, as it has done in Russia and Brazil.

Yet, China, while keen to enhance its access to reserves and diversify its supplies, may not show the same level of interest to a downstream asset oriented primarily on the domestic market. The Kazakhstan-China oil pipeline, which has been completed ahead of schedule this June, will have a capacity of 20 million tons per year. Filling the completed pipeline will likely be a priority for Chinese oil companies in Kazakhstan. Moreover, China already has a major oil refinery in western China near Urumchi with refining capacity of 6 million tons a year, projected to rise to 10 million.
(Silk Road Intelligencer)

THE END OF THE THIRD PART (Fine della terza parte)

Kazakhstan’s KazStroyService has completed the construction of the Kenkiyak-Kumkol pipeline, giving China direct access to Kazakhstan’s oil provinces in western Kazakhstan, Reuters reported citing an announcement by KazStroyService.

KazStroyService reportedly successfully completed the first test oil shipment.

The Kenkiyak-Kumkol link is the third part of the so-called Kazakhstan-China pipeline which runs from Atyrau near the Caspian Sea to Alashankou in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region. The first stage of the project was completed in 2003 and runs westward across Western Kazakhstan from the oil fields of the Aktobe region to Atyrau. This line will be reversed when all stages are complete. The second stage from Atasu, in northwestern Kazakhstan, to Alashankou was completed in 2006. The newly completed Kenkiyak-Kumkol pipeline will connect the two links and will give China access to CNPC’s Aktobe and Kumkol fields and the newly acquired MangistauMunaiGas upstream assets.

Kazakhstan and China agreed to build the 3,000 km pipeline in 1997 and have said they would later double the capacity of the combined pipeline from the current 10 million tons a year.

China extended a $10-billion loan to Kazakhstan in April in exchange for greater access to the country’s hydrocarbon wealth. Already, with CNPC’s recent purchase of a 50-percent stake in MangistauMunaiGas, China’s share in Kazkahstan’s oil production amounts to 22 percent, a local financial newspaper reported recently citing government data.

China is also building a pipeline to import up to 40 billion cubic meters of Central Asian gas a year. The link originates in Turkmenistan and goes through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
(Silk Road Intelligencer)


CHINA CHOOSES TURKMENISTAN (La Cina sceglie il Turkmenistan)

China National Petroleum Corporation signed a 30-year deal to increase purchases of natural gas from Turkmenistan by 30 percent, Chinese media reported - a landmark agreement for Beijing as it competes with Moscow for access to Central Asia's energy wealth.

"This agreement is very important for ensuring a stable, long-term and adequate supply of gas for this pipeline," Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang said at an official signing ceremony, according to the state-run newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan.

Li Keqiang met with his Turkmen counterpart to sign the contract, which increases gas deliveries to 40 billion cubic meters (52 billion cubic yards) annually, the newspaper reported.

The deal comes amid strained relations between Turkmenistan and Russia, which usually buys most of the Turkmen gas for onward sale in Ukraine and Europe.

Turkmenistan lashed out against Russia following an explosion in April at a gas pipeline linking both countries, and it appears Moscow underestimated the fallout from that event, notes U.K. newspaper The Guardian.

With the agreement, China has moved one more step along its bid for Central Asia’s energy resources — and ultimately toward expanding its geopolitical influence over the wider region.

Moscow, previously a major purchaser of Turkmen gas, could be losing out to cash-rich China in the race to secure energy commitments in Central Asia.

Earlier this year, Russia moved to reduce its gas imports from Turkmenistan because of plunging demand and prices in Europe.

China sees Turkmenistan as a more politically reliable supplier than Russia, which has a well-known tendency to use energy as leverage for geopolitical concessions. Furthermore, pre-existing infrastructure in Turkmenistan means the Turkmen deal could prove cheaper than the Russian deal, even if Turkmen natural gas is more expensive. And finally, China wants access to Central Asia’s energy, and Turkmenistan is a critical piece of the pie.

Meanwhile, China appears ready to invest some $3 billion to develop the South Yolotan gas field, one of the world's largest as Russian gas monopoly Gazprom announces a 30 percent cut in capital investments.

Turkmenistan holds more than 700 trillion cubic feet of estimated natural gas reserves.

Work on a 7,000-kilometer (4,300-mile) pipeline from Turkmenistan to China is expected to be finished by the end of the year.


WELCOME TO PIPELINEISTAN! (Benvenuti nel Pipelineistan!)

What happens on the immense battlefield for the control of Eurasia will provide the ultimate plot line in the tumultuous rush towards a new, polycentric world order, also known as the New Great Game.

Our good ol' friend the nonsensical "global war on terror", which the Pentagon has slyly rebranded "the Long War", sports a far more important, if half-hidden, twin - a global energy war. I like to think of it as the Liquid War, because its bloodstream is the pipelines that crisscross the potential imperial battlefields of the planet. Put another way, if its crucial embattled frontier these days is the Caspian Basin, the whole of Eurasia is its chessboard. Think of it, geographically, as Pipelineistan.

All geopolitical junkies need a fix. Since the second half of the 1990s, I've been hooked on pipelines. I've crossed the Caspian in an Azeri cargo ship just to follow the $4 billion Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline, better known in this chess game by its acronym, BTC, through the Caucasus. (Oh, by the way, the map of Pipelineistan is chicken-scratched with acronyms, so get used to them!)

I've also trekked various of the overlapping modern Silk Roads, or perhaps Silk Pipelines, of possible future energy flows from Shanghai to Istanbul, annotating my own do-it-yourself routes for LNG (liquefied natural gas). I used to avidly follow the adventures of that once-but-not-future Sun-King of Central Asia, the now deceased Turkmenbashi or "leader of the Turkmen", Saparmurat Niyazov, head of the immensely gas-rich Republic of Turkmenistan, as if he were a Conradian hero.

In Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan (before it was moved to Astana, in the middle of the middle of nowhere) the locals were puzzled when I expressed an overwhelming urge to drive to that country's oil boomtown Aktau. ("Why? There's nothing there.") Entering the Space Odyssey-style map room at the Russian energy giant Gazprom's headquarters in Moscow - which digitally details every single pipeline in Eurasia - or the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC)'s corporate HQ in Tehran, with its neat rows of female experts in full chador, was my equivalent of entering Aladdin's cave. And never reading the words "Afghanistan" and "oil" in the same sentence is still a source of endless amusement for me.

Last year, oil cost a king's ransom. This year, it's relatively cheap. But don't be fooled. Price isn't the point here. Like it or not, energy is still what everyone who's anyone wants to get their hands on. So consider this dispatch just the first installment in a long, long tale of some of the moves that have been, or will be, made in the maddeningly complex New Great Game, which goes on unceasingly, no matter what else muscles into the headlines this week.

Forget the mainstream media's obsession with al-Qaeda, Osama "dead or alive" bin Laden, the Taliban - neo, light or classic - or that "war on terror", whatever name it goes by. These are diversions compared to the high-stakes, hardcore geopolitical game that follows what flows along the pipelines of the planet.

Who said Pipelineistan couldn't be fun? In his 1997 magnum opus The Grand Chessboard, Zbigniew Brzezinski - realpolitik practitioner extraordinaire and former national security advisor to Jimmy Carter, the president who launched the US on its modern energy wars - laid out in some detail just how to hang on to American "global primacy". Later, his master plan would be duly copied by that lethal bunch of Dr No's congregated at Bill Kristol's Project for a New American Century (PNAC, in case you'd forgotten the acronym since its website and its followers went down).

For Dr Zbig, who, like me, gets his fix from Eurasia - from, that is, thinking big - it all boils down to fostering the emergence of just the right set of "strategically compatible partners" for Washington in places where energy flows are strongest. This, as he so politely put it back then, should be done to shape "a more cooperative trans-Eurasian security system".

By now, Dr Zbig - among whose fans is evidently President Barack Obama - must have noticed that the Eurasian train which was to deliver the energy goods has been slightly derailed. The Asian part of Eurasia, it seems, begs to differ.

Global financial crisis or not, oil and natural gas are the long-term keys to an inexorable transfer of economic power from the West to Asia. Those who control Pipelineistan - and despite all the dreaming and planning that's gone on there, it's unlikely to be Washington - will have the upper hand in whatever is to come, and there's not a terrorist in the world, or even a "long war", that can change that.

Energy expert Michael Klare has been instrumental in identifying the key vectors in the wild, ongoing global scramble for power over Pipelineistan. These range from the increasing scarcity (and difficulty of reaching) primary energy supplies to "the painfully slow development of energy alternatives". Though you may not have noticed, the first skirmishes in Pipelineistan's Liquid War are already on, and even in the worst of economic times, the risk mounts constantly, given the relentless competition between the West and Asia, be it in the Middle East, in the Caspian theater, or in African oil-rich states like Angola, Nigeria and Sudan.

In these early skirmishes of the 21st century, China reacted swiftly indeed. Even before the attacks of September 11, 2001, its leaders were formulating a response to what they saw as the reptilian encroachment of the West on the oil and gas lands of Central Asia, especially in the Caspian Sea region. To be specific, in June 2001, its leaders joined with Russia's to form the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. It's known as the SCO and that's an acronym you should memorize. It's going to be around for a while.

Back then, the SCO's junior members were, tellingly enough, the Stans, the energy-rich former SSRs of the Soviet Union - Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan - which the Bill Clinton administration and then the new George W Bush administration, run by those former energy men, had been eyeing covetously. The organization was to be a multi-layered economic and military regional cooperation society that, as both the Chinese and the Russians saw it, would function as a kind of security blanket around the upper rim of Afghanistan.

Iran is, of course, a crucial energy node of West Asia and that country's leaders, too, would prove no slouches when it came to the New Great Game. It needs at least $200 billion in foreign investment to truly modernize its fabulous oil and gas reserves - and thus sell much more to the West than US-imposed sanctions now allow.

No wonder Iran soon became a target in Washington. No wonder an air assault on that country remains the ultimate wet dream of assorted Likudniks as well as former vice president Dick ("Angler") Cheney and his neo-conservative chamberlains and comrades-in-arms. As seen by the elite from Tehran and Delhi to Beijing and Moscow, such a US attack, now likely off the radar screen until at least 2012, would be a war not only against Russia and China, but against the whole project of Asian integration that the SCO is coming to represent.

Meanwhile, as the Obama administration tries to sort out its Iranian, Afghan, and Central Asian policies, Beijing continues to dream of a secure, fast-flowing, energy version of the old Silk Road, extending from the Caspian Basin (the energy-rich Stans plus Iran and Russia) to Xinjiang province, its Far West.

The SCO has expanded its aims and scope since 2001. Today, Iran, India, and Pakistan enjoy "observer status" in an organization that increasingly aims to control and protect not just regional energy supplies, but Pipelineistan in every direction. This is, of course, the role the Washington ruling elite would like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to play across Eurasia. Given that Russia and China expect the SCO to play a similar role across Asia, clashes of various sorts are inevitable.

Ask any relevant expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing and he will tell you that the SCO should be understood as a historically unique alliance of five non-Western civilizations - Russian, Chinese, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist - and, because of that, capable of evolving into the basis for a collective security system in Eurasia. That's a thought sure to discomfort classic inside-the-Beltway global strategists like Dr Zbig and president George H W Bush's national security advisor Brent Scowcroft.

According to the view from Beijing, the rising world order of the 21st century will be significantly determined by a quadrangle of BRIC countries - for those of you by now collecting New Great Game acronyms, that stands for Brazil, Russia, India and China - plus the future Islamic triangle of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Add in a unified South America, no longer in thrall to Washington, and you have a global SCO-plus. On the drawing boards, at least, it's a high-octane dream.

The key to any of this is a continuing Sino-Russian entente cordiale.

Already in 1999, watching NATO and the United States aggressively expand into the distant Balkans, Beijing identified this new game for what it was: a developing energy war. And at stake were the oil and natural gas reserves of what Americans would soon be calling the "arc of instability," a vast span of lands extending from North Africa to the Chinese border.

No less important would be the routes pipelines would take in bringing the energy buried in those lands to the West. Where they would be built, the countries they would cross, would determine much in the world to come. And this was where the empire of US military bases (think, for instance, Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo) met Pipelineistan (represented, way back in 1999, by the AMBO pipeline).

AMBO, short for Albanian Macedonian Bulgarian Oil Corporation, an entity registered in the US, is building a $1.1 billion pipeline, aka "the Trans-Balkan", slated to be finished by 2011. It will bring Caspian oil to the West without taking it through either Russia or Iran. As a pipeline, AMBO fit well into a geopolitical strategy of creating a US-controlled energy-security grid that was first developed by president Bill Clinton's energy secretary Bill Richardson and later by Cheney.

Behind the idea of that "grid" lay a go-for-broke militarization of an energy corridor that would stretch from the Caspian Sea in Central Asia through a series of now independent former SSRs of the Soviet Union to Turkey, and from there into the Balkans (from thence onto Europe). It was meant to sabotage the larger energy plans of both Russia and Iran. AMBO itself would bring oil from the Caspian basin to a terminal in the former SSR of Georgia in the Caucasus, and then transport it by tanker through the Black Sea to the Bulgarian port of Burgas, where another pipeline would connect to Macedonia and then to the Albanian port of Vlora.

As for Camp Bondsteel, it was the "enduring" military base that Washington gained from the wars for the remains of Yugoslavia. It would be the largest overseas base the US had built since the Vietnam War. Halliburton's subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root would, with the Army Corps of Engineers, put it up on 400 hectares of farmland near the Macedonian border in southern Kosovo.

Think of it as a user-friendly, five-star version of Guantanamo with perks for those stationed there that included Thai massage and loads of junk food. Bondsteel is the Balkan equivalent of a giant immobile aircraft carrier, capable of exercising surveillance not only over the Balkans but also over Turkey and the Black Sea region (considered in the neo-con-speak of the Bush years "the new interface" between the "Euro-Atlantic community" and the "Greater Middle East").

How could Russia, China, and Iran not interpret the war in Kosovo, then the invasion of Afghanistan (where Washington had previously tried to pair with the Taliban and encourage the building of another of those avoid-Iran, avoid-Russia pipelines), followed by the invasion of Iraq (that country of vast oil reserves), and finally the recent clash in Georgia (that crucial energy transportation junction) as straightforward wars for Pipelineistan?

Though seldom imagined this way in our mainstream media, the Russian and Chinese leaderships saw a stark "continuity" of policy stretching from Bill Clinton's humanitarian imperialism to Bush's "global war on terror". Blowback, as then Russian President Vladimir Putin himself warned publicly, was inevitable - but that's another magic-carpet story, another cave to enter another time.

If you want to understand Washington's version of Pipelineistan, you have to start with Mafia-ridden Georgia. Though its army was crushed in its recent war with Russia, Georgia remains crucial to Washington's energy policy in what, by now, has become a genuine arc of instability - in part because of a continuing obsession with cutting Iran out of the energy flow.

It was around the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, as I pointed out in my book Globalistan in 2007, that American policy congealed. Zbig Brzezinski himself flew into Baku in 1995 as an "energy consultant", less than four years after Azerbaijan became independent, and sold the idea to the Azerbaijani elite. The BTC was to run from the Sangachal Terminal, half-an-hour south of Baku, across neighboring Georgia to the Marine Terminal in the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean.

Now operational, that 1,767-kilometer-long, 44-meter-wide steel serpent straddles no less than six war zones, ongoing or potential: Nagorno-Karabakh (an Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan), Chechnya and Dagestan (both embattled regions of Russia), South Ossetia and Abkhazia (on which the 2008 Russia-Georgia war pivoted), and Turkish Kurdistan.

From a purely economic point of view, the BTC made no sense. A "BTK" pipeline, running from Baku through Tehran to Iran's Kharg Island, could have been built for, relatively speaking, next to nothing - and it would have had the added advantage of bypassing both mafia-corroded Georgia and wobbly Kurdish-populated Eastern Anatolia. That would have been the really cheap way to bring Caspian oil and gas to Europe.

The New Great Game ensured that that was not to be, and much followed from that decision. Even though Moscow never planned to occupy Georgia long-term in its 2008 war, or take over the BTC pipeline that now runs through its territory, Alfa Bank oil and gas analyst Konstantin Batunin pointed out the obvious: by briefly cutting off the BTC oil flow, Russian troops made it all too clear to global investors that Georgia wasn't a reliable energy transit country. In other words, the Russians made a mockery of Zbig's world.

For its part, Azerbaijan was, until recently, the real success story in the US version of Pipelineistan. Advised by Zbig, Bill Clinton literally "stole" Baku from Russia's "near abroad" by promoting the BTC and the wealth that would flow from it. Now, however, with the message of the Russia-Georgia War sinking in, Baku is again allowing itself to be seduced by Russia. To top it off, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev can't stand Georgia's brash President Mikhail Saakashvili. That's hardly surprising. After all, Saakashvili's rash military moves caused Azerbaijan to lose at least $500 million when the BTC was shut down during the war.

Russia's energy seduction blitzkrieg is focused like a laser on Central Asia as well. (We'll talk about it more in the next Pipelineistan installment.) It revolves around offering to buy Kazakh, Uzbek, and Turkmen gas at European prices instead of previous, much lower Russian prices. The Russians, in fact, have offered the same deal to the Azeris: so now, Baku is negotiating a deal involving more capacity for the Baku-Novorossiysk pipeline, which makes its way to the Russian borders of the Black Sea, while considering pumping less oil for the BTC.

Obama needs to understand the dire implications of this. Less Azeri oil on the BTC - its full capacity is 1 million barrels a day, mostly shipped to Europe - means the pipeline may go broke, which is exactly what Russia wants.

In Central Asia, some of the biggest stakes revolve around the monster Kashagan oil field in "snow leopard" Kazakhstan, the absolute jewel in the Caspian crown with reserves of as many as 9 billion barrels. As usual in Pipelineistan, it all comes down to which routes will deliver Kashagan's oil to the world after production starts in 2013. This spells, of course, Liquid War. Wily Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev would like to use the Russian-controlled Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) to pump Kashagan crude to the Black Sea.

In this case, the Kazakhs hold all the cards. How oil will flow from Kashagan will decide whether the BTC - once hyped by Washington as the ultimate Western escape route from dependence on Persian Gulf oil - lives or dies.

Welcome, then, to Pipelineistan! Whether we like it or not, in good times and bad, it's a reasonable bet that we're all going to be Pipeline tourists. So, go with the flow. Learn the crucial acronyms, keep an eye out for what happens to all those US bases across the oil heartlands of the planet, watch where the pipelines are being built, and do your best to keep tabs on the next set of monster Chinese energy deals and fabulous coups by Russia's Gazprom.

And, while you're at it, consider this just the first postcard sent off from our tour of Pipelineistan. We'll be back (to slightly adapt a quote from Terminator). Think of this as a door opening onto a future in which what flows where and to whom may turn out to be the most important question on the planet.
(Asia Times Online)

Lo stesso articolo, tradotto in italiano, è disponibile al seguente link.