For almost 100 years, the countries of Central Asia were kept out of the arena of world politics as they were part of the former Soviet Union. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, they became independent nations: Uzbekistan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. These countries have become the focus of the economic superpowers because of their strategic location between the East and the West and their wealth as a result of large reserves of oil and natural gas which have been discovered in large quantities under the Caspian Sea.
Turkmenistan plans to begin production at Galkynysh, the world’s second largest gas field, by June 30, which will allow it boost exports to Asia and help Europe lessen its dependence on Russian gas.
Turkmenistan, a post-Soviet Central Asian country of 5.5 million which borders Afghanistan and Iran, holds the world’s fourth-largest natural gas riches after Russia, Iran and Qatar. British auditor Gaffney, Cline & Associates has estimated the reserves of Galkynysh, named after the Turkmen word for “renaissance,” at 13.1 trillion to 21.2 trillion cubic metres.
For a relatively small drilling operation, China National Petroleum Corporation’s (CNPC) project in Afghanistan’s Sar-e-Pul province has a large footprint. These efforts are part of a rapid change in Chinese strategy. Until two years ago, Chinese strategists regarded Afghanistan as solely an American concern: Washington broke it, and Washington should have to put it back together. Now, Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are the largest investors in Afghanistan’s extractive sector and Afghan officials speak of Chinese investment as central to ensuring that the national government in Kabul will remain in power after 2014.
Two pipelines in the highlands of northeast Myanmar will soon begin pumping oil and gas into China, representing a major step in Beijing’s quest for energy security. The $2.5 billion pipeline project, scheduled for completion this month, is part of China’s land-based network of import routes that includes completed pipelines from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Russia. In a region increasingly defined by its quest for energy, the new pipelines could help China tip the geopolitical landscape in its favor.
Not much time is left until 2014, when the withdrawal of NATO anti-terrorism coalition troops from Afghanistan is expected to take place; however, it still remains unknown what type of military contingent will remain in Afghanistan and Central Asia thereafter and which countries of the region will be selected by the West for this purpose.
The fact that military contingents will remain not only in Afghanistan but also in the region is doubtless and is openly stated by officials. On Tuesday, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Robert Blake said the fact of the coalition’s presence in Central Asia is unequivocal, adding that it is still not decided on what other transit points and bases will be maintained in the region.
Raw materials and energy reserves in Central Asia make the region of particular interest to both China and Russia. The two countries share interests in region but are also each others biggest competitors.
The countries enjoy what experts have often called a strategic partnership, but that does not mean relations are without problems. The energy sector often crops up as a bone of contention between the nations as both look to increase their power and influence in Central Asia.
Will armies battle each other, as the cry for “blue gold” gets furious? Will “water wars” be as prevalent as conflict for the “black gold” of oil? Two documentary films have wetted public interest – Blue Gold: World Water Wars, and Last Call at the Oasis, and a dystopia novel – The Water Wars – warns of its imminence.
In actuality, history’s pages are already splashed with dozens of conflicts. In 2,450 B.C. the Sumerian cities of Lagash and Umma warred over Tigris-Euphrates water. More recently, Senegal and Mauritaniabattled in 1989 over grazing rights in the Senegal River Valley – hundreds were killed, 250,000 fled their homes. The Pacific Institute provides an excellent map and timeline of 225 water skirmishes.
In 2012, all five Central Asian republics managed to avoid major crises and political cataclysms.
As 2011 drew to a close, experts inside and outside the region predicted threats to regime security associated with the spread of the Arab Spring, the rise of Islamic radicalism and leadership change — particularly in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan where the incumbent presidents are well into their seventies. None of these fears materialised.
THE ex-Soviet states of Central Asia are engaged in an increasingly bitter standoff over water resources, adding another element of instability to the volatile region neighbouring Afghanistan.
Plans in mountainous but energy-poor Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan for two of the world’s biggest hydro-electric power stations have enraged their powerful downstream neighbour Uzbekistan which fears losing valuable water. Russia as well as the other Central Asian states of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are also being pulled into a dispute which dates back to the allocation of resources when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.
The Caspian Sea region is an often-overlooked one, compared to the Middle East, when assessing the antagonisms of world powers. However, this hinterland of Eurasia is of great importance for a whole range of issues.
The Caspian Sea dominates on a geo-economic level Central Asia, Caucasus, Southern Russia and the upper part of the Middle East. More than 10 billion tons of oil reserves are to be found there along with trillions of cubic meters of natural gas, most of them still unexplored or underdeveloped.
Over 160 promising oil and gas fields, 60 of which are currently being developed, have been discovered in Turkmenistan, the representatives of the national fuel and energy complex said on Friday at an investment forum in Ashgabat.
As noted, Turkmenistan ranks fourth in the world on the natural gas reserves. Its total geological reserves are estimated at 71.21 billion tons of standard fuel, with 53 billion tons of the resources and reserves of onshore fields, and 18.21 billion tons falling to the share of offshore fields.
Another important country is Iran. Iran sits on the second largest gas reserves in the world and has over 93 billion barrels of proven oil reserves with a total of 4.17 million barrels per day in 2009. To the dislike of the United States, Iran is a very active player. The Turkmenistan-Iran gas pipeline, constructed in 1997, was the first new pipeline going out from Central Asia. Furthermore, Iran signed a $120 billion gas exploration deal, often termed the “deal of the century” with China.
The United States has been quietly deepening relationships in Central Asia, but in the process it is embracing two authoritarian lifetime presidents who don’t have great records on human rights. The State Department has repeatedly criticized both for those records and for their generally harsh treatment of domestic opponents. Washington seems to be seeking potential long-term footholds in both countries, which are adjacent to Russia, China and Iran.
Morgan Marquis-Boire works as a Google engineer and Bill Marczak is earning a Ph.D. in computer science. But this summer, the two men have been moonlighting as detectives, chasing an elusive surveillance tool from Bahrain across five continents.
What they found was the widespread use of sophisticated, off-the-shelf computer espionage software by governments with questionable records on human rights. While the software is supposedly sold for use only in criminal investigations, the two came across evidence that it was being used to target political dissidents.
The software proved to be the stuff of a spy film: it can grab images of computer screens, record Skype chats, turn on cameras and microphones and log keystrokes. The two men said they discovered mobile versions of the spyware customized for all major mobile phones.
The reason I include the Central Asian region in my analysis is that because the region constitutes the heart of Asia, coupled with providing the main route to the New Silk Route, a future venture that may lead to a faceoff between Washington and Moscow. The formation of the region’s states makes it interesting to monitor for a neutral observer. Although the US national foreign policy would never keep the region at its top priority, implicit indications from the word go provided a fair picture of what the US was after. The former US National Security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski once referred to Central Asia as a hotbed of conflict and one of the most strategically important parts of the world, as the ‘Eurasian Balkans’.
The European Union’s response to the Arab awakening again highlighted its inability to react swiftly and decisively to extraordinary events unfolding in its neighborhood, Hrant Kostanyan and Magdalena Nasieniak write in a report for the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies. But the new European Endowment for Democracy has the potential to make the EU a committed, pro-active and effective leader of democracy assistance, free of nationally-driven decisions, European ‘turf wars’ and cumbersome bureaucracy.
Central Asian presidents are deeply worried about the potential contagion and effects of the “Arab Spring” events in their countries – which could spark a democratisation process aimed to modify the political status quo – mainly because they fear to lose their power: moreover, the potential overthrow of their secular governments, a following condition of prolonged instability and uncertainty could draw up a kind of power vacuum which radical Islamist forces could dangerously fill.
When it comes to the brewing arms race in the Caspian Sea region, no one can accuse Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov of navel-gazing. Ashgabat is now able to back its claims to some energy-rich patches of the sea with considerable firepower.
Abundant energy resources under and around the sea have pushed all five littoral states – Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan – to bolster their naval capabilities. Analysts agree that Russia has the most powerful flotilla on the Caspian. But who is Number Two is a matter of debate.
Iran traditionally has played second fiddle to Russia on the Caspian.
All Central Asian countries suffer from pervasive corruption, acute income inequalities, political succession problems, and transnational criminal groups that cooperate more effectively than the region’s frequently feuding governments do. Deteriorating public services contributed to the overthrow of Kyrgyzstan’s government, and could lead alienated citizens to support extremists.
All five countries have yet to fully recover from the disintegration of Soviet infrastructure networks, and require urgent domestic and region-wide measures to strengthen their education, transportation, energy provision, health care, and other public services. And their myriad interdependencies increase the risks of transnational threats, such as disease outbreaks, and resource-related confrontations.
The money and blood pit that is Afghanistan – where the United States and Britain have spent more than 2100 lives and £302 billion ($580 billion) – is about to pay a dividend.
But it won’t be going to the countries which have made this considerable sacrifice. The contracts to open up Afghanistan’s mineral and fossil-fuel wealth, and to build the railways that will transport it out of the country, are being won or pursued by China, India, Iran, and Russia.
Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and EU to support Southern Gas Corridor
Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and the EU are preparing two documents that will allow them to take delivery of the Caspian and in particular Turkmen gas to Europe, Azerbaijani Industry and Energy Minister Natiq Aliyev said at a meeting with members of the Caspian-European Integration Business Club (CEIBC). He said Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and the European Union are preparing a political document to support the Southern Gas Corridor, as well as an inter-governmental agreement on Trans-Caspian gas pipeline. This should take place before the end of the year.
Director General of the Institute for Caspian Cooperation Sergey Mikheyev is sure that the USA tries to involve the South Caucasian countries into the war against Iran. He expressed such views in an interview with News Azerbaijan Agency.
Specifically, Mikheyev stated that Americans, jointly with allies, would draw into the war on their side the northern neighbors of Iran – Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, maybe, Armenia and for sure – Georgia.
Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia’s two smallest economies, are discovering that breaking free of Russian domination is a hard task, particularly when they lack their own hydrocarbon resources and struggle to forge good relations with other neighbors that might make up for that shortage.
Russian oil supplies meet more than 90% of Kyrgyzstan’s and Tajikistan’s oil needs, but Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are rich in hydrocarbon resources and could potentially overtake Russia as the two smaller countries’ main source of petroleum and other fossil-fuel supplies.
Turkmenistan could potentially benefit from a gas export bonanza, with a major reserves upgrade at the South Yolotan field alone providing the basis for long-term supply agreements that should transform the economic outlook. There are technical and commercial hurdles to overcome, but timely infrastructure investment and moves to improve international relations should guarantee that Turkmenistan becomes a key player in global gas supply.
Business Monitor International’s Turkmenistan Oil and Gas Report provides industry professionals and strategists, corporate analysts, oil and gas associations, government departments and regulatory bodies with independent forecasts and competitive intelligence on Turkmenistan’s oil and gas industry.
India and Pakistan are closer to agreeing on a transit fee and a joint strategy to develop gas fields and import the hydrocarbon via a pipeline from the Central Asian Republic of Turkmenistan, oil ministers of two countries said.
The statements came during joint press conference by Indian Petroleum & Natural Gas Minister S Jaipal Reddy and his Pakistani counterpart Dr Asim Hussain, after bilateral talks on energy cooperation here.
Turkmenistan has world’s fourth largest reserves of natural gas. India & Pakistan are both keen to tap this source through a pipeline via the Central Asian country’s eastern neighbour, Afghanistan.
Iran’s recent announcement that it has found a huge new gas field in the Caspian has been touted as a major event, which will “will change the energy and political balance around the Caspian Sea”, according to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. With estimated reserves of 1.4 trillion cubic metres of natural gas and 8 billion barrels of oil, the find is undoubtedly significant, but perhaps not for the reasons which Iran means.
First is the legal issue. Iran has not yet revealed the exact location of the field, which is unusual.
“Based on investigations, Mossad, CIA and MI6 spy agencies have set up spy bases on the borderlines of five neighboring countries (with Iran),” member of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Zohreh Elahian told FNA.
“The bases are tasked with directing terrorist groups and even conducting sabotage and espionage operations against the Islamic Republic and its citizens,” she added.
Elahian named Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan as the five countries in which the US, Israeli and British spy agencies have established bases.
Much attention is currently focused on the attempts to agree terms for building a Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline (TCGP) underneath the Caspian Sea from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan, allowing natural gas from Turkmenistan to find a route to Europe. The European Commission (EC) was recently authorized by the EU to participate in working out the terms of the project.
To put the present situation in perspective, it is useful to recall the last time such an attempt was made. That was back in the late 1990s, when US firms first sought to construct such a pipeline. That TCGP consortium was half-owned by PSG International, and half by GE Capital and Bechtel (who later also included Royal Dutch Shell in the venture).