TODAY.AZ / Politics

Azerbaijan is important for Nabucco not only as producing country: expert at Institute of Political Studies of Bordeaux

02 September 2009 [10:15] - TODAY.AZ
Samuel Lussac, a PhD candidate in International Relations at the Institute of Political Studies of Bordeaux, spoke in an exclusive interview with Day.Az.
Day.Az: Some experts argue that Azerbaijan is one of the most important countries who take part in the Nabucco project even after gas agreement Azerbaijan signed with Russia. Will cooperation with Russia somehow freeze the Nabucco pipeline project?

Samuel Lussac: Azerbaijan is really important for Nabucco both as a producing country and as a transit state. The phase 2 of the Shah Deniz gas field may produce in 2017 around 17 bcm per year. Half of this volume could be dedicated to Nabucco, which may help the beginning of this pipeline project. Azerbaijan is also at the crossroads for the export of Turkmen gas to Europe. Negotiations are now going on to revive a transcaspian gas pipeline that would transport huge gas reserves from Turkmenistan to Europe. In this perspective, Azerbaijan seems to be a key country in the implementation of Nabucco.

That is why the 30 June 2009 gas agreement between Gazprom and SOCAR for the supply of Azerbaijani gas to Russia has raised a lot of concerns. However, based on my discussions with SOCAR officials, I don’t believe that this agreement is a threat to the Nabucco project. First, it also concerns small amounts of gas (for the first phase, 0.5 bcm per year). Then, the actual infrastructures between Azerbaijan and Dagestan are of poor quality and are unable for the moment to transport more than 0.5 bcm per year.

To increase this transportation capacity means to get involved in the modernization of the pipeline, which seems quite unlikely for the moment. Finally, Azerbaijani officials, both from the government and SOCAR, regularly state off the record their deep willing to export their gas to Europe. According to them, the European Union is a reliable partner, able to pay interesting prices for the gas and that may help Azerbaijan to hold a more important position within the international community.

Q: Do you think a common position on the Caspian Sea status and closer cooperation among the Caspian republics will be achieved at the upcoming meeting between the Caspian littoral countries in Aktau?

A: Even if the upcoming meeting raises great hope, it seems quite unlikely in my opinion that the littoral states would achieve a common position on the Caspian Sea status. Of course, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Russia already found a solution to “share” the Caspian Sea. And the relations between both Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan and Iran are better now than few years ago. But some obstacles remain, making unlikely any common position on the status of the Caspian Sea.

These obstacles essentially concern the right of exploitation of offshore oil and gas fields. Turkmenistan claims to benefit from the revenues of the Chirag oil field and considers that the Kapaz-Serdar field is situated in the Turkmen part of the Caspian Sea. The situation of the Araz-Alov-Sharg oil field – either in the Azerbaijani or in the Iranian part of the Caspian Sea – is also an important problem in the relation between Baku and Teheran. These issues are highly related to each other: any settlement of one would help solving the other.

For instance, if Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan find an agreement on the joint exploitation of the Kapaz field, Iran would claim for the same kind of deal for Araz-Alov-Sharg.

This is by far the biggest problem: if Baku appeared ready few months ago to agree on the joint exploitation of Kapaz, it seems very reluctant to accept such solution for the other disputed field, as it has signed a production sharing agreement on Araz-Alov-Sharg with BP and Statoil in 1998. Therefore, no settlement seems to be on the track for these issues and this is a big problem on any resolution of the Caspian Sea status. So, I don’t think that the upcoming meeting would produce any significant result. The energy issue remains too important to find any solution on the status of the Caspian Sea. Moreover, the recent statements made by the Turkmen president Berdimuhamedov do not help to find a common ground for discussions.

Q: It was reported that Turkmenistan will establish a naval base on the Caspian Sea to protect its maritime state border. How will this decision affect the negotiations on the Caspian sea borders? Could establishment of the naval base mean militarization in the region?

A: The statement made yesterday by the Turkmen president has been as surprising as the one he made in July on his decision to sue Azerbaijan in front of an international arbitration court. During the last few months, Azerbaijani officials were rather confident on finding an agreement on the offshore border between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

Now, all the negotiations seem to be locked and I can’t see how Ashgabat and Baku could find a solution in a near future. The militarization of the Caspian Sea has been a long-standing issue since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Especially since the beginning of the 2000s, it has been on the top of the agenda, as the United States and Russia are competing on the establishment of their respective military forces in the landlocked sea.

Thus, Washington has developed since 2003 the project of a Caspian Guard while Moscow regularly talks about implementing a KASFOR (for Caspian Forces) in the Caspian Sea. Despite a last statement in February 2009, announcing the upcoming establishment of the KASFOR, both projects did not become reality.

In my opinion, it is quite likely that the Turkmen project would follow the same path. Making such a statement, Ashgabat recalls its strong will not to give up what it considers to be its rights in the Caspian Sea.

It seems especially destined to Azerbaijan to assert that it would not renounce to exploit the Kapaz oil field. Turkmenistan also knows that the Caspian Sea status is once again on the top of the international agenda. For Nabucco as for the other gas pipelines projects, the Caspian Sea is the only way to export Turkmen gas to Europe, as both Iran and Russia are considered as unreliable ways.

Ashgabat is trying to take advantage of this situation to strongly express its national interests on the international scene. I don’t know if this will be productive but I do know that it does not help to create a peaceful climate to discuss the status of the Caspian Sea. In such a tense context, any resolution of this long-standing issue seems rather unlikely.

T. Teymur

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