Saturday, September 11, 2010

ART: Azerbaijan-Russia-Turkey Energy Axis

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made a state visit to Baku this week, and brought home with him signed contracts for the purchase of additional Azerbaijani natural gas. Russia can resell this gas to European customers.

Azerbaijan previously had been reluctant to sell its gas to Russia, and was an active participant in Washington's plans to develop an independent East West Energy Corridor. This strategy had been pursued by both Democratic and Republic administrations, with both Presidents Clinton and Bush as firm supporters of the concept. The American strategic vision had been to strengthen the sovereignty of the new nation states of the former Soviet Union by giving them multiple ways to ship their energy resources, while reducing European reliance on Gazprom as the monopoly supplier of natural gas.

While Washington claims to still be committed to this policy, strategic blunders and inattention to the region has led to the development of ART: the Azerbaijan-Russia-Turkey Natural Gas Axis. On October 14, 2009, Azerbaijan signed an agreement to sell Russia natural gas. This followed ten months in which President Obama did not appoint an Ambassador to Azerbaijan (after 18 months the position is still vacant), and corresponded with Washington's efforts to decouple the Turkish-Armenian border closing from the resolution of the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict over Nagorno Karabagh.

Starting January 1, 2010, Azerbaijan began pumping 500 million cubic meters of gas annually to Russia. This quantity was later doubled to a billion cubic meters. The latest contract doubles the quantity again, to 2 billion cubic meters in 2011, with additional increases in 2012. As Russian natural gas supplies are depleted, Russia will use its access to Azerbaijani gas to continue its role as predominent supplier to Europe. Analysts estimate that by the year 2030, 80% of all natural gas imports into Europe will be via Gazprom.

Gazprom chief executive Alexi Miller was pleased with the new contract. "It's clear to everyone that the Russian direction is the most reliable and safe corridor to deliver Azerbaijani gas to the market," he said (Agence France-Presse, September 3, 2010). With the natural gas going North into the Russian pipeline system, it endangers the potential supply of natural gas for the Nabucco pipeline.

Turkey, a vital transit point for the Nabucco pipeline, is also becoming more dependent on Russia as its principle supplier of natural gas. Turkey was already reliant on Russia for 23 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually, but Gazprom has been able to demonstrate a much-needed surge potential. On August 24, 2010, terrorists exploded the Iran-Turkey natural gas pipeline. Turkey was forced to stop use of the pipeline while repairs were made. Over the next ten days, Gazprom made up the difference by more than doubling the amount of natural gas it shipped to Turkey via its Blue Stream pipeline. Gazprom usually sends 18 million cubic meters of gas per day, but during the ten days following the blast, it shipped 42 million cubic meters per day. (, 07 September 2010.

Gazprom is seeking to expand its role in Turkey's domestic supply network. According to the Turkish newspaper Referans (3 September 2010) Gazprom has opened talks with two independent domestic supply companies, Calik and Aksa. With Calik, Gazprom hopes to build Turkey's first underground storage facility, under the Great Salt Lake south of Ankara. Aksa owns one-third of Turkey's domestic distribution network.

Iran would also like to be part of the energy axis. Currently, Iran imports one million cubic meters daily of natural gas from Azerbaijan, and pays for it by shipping the same quantity to the Azerbaijani-controlled Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. According to a gas agreement between the two countries, however, Iran can increase its imports to 2.5 million cubic meters daily and eventually to 5 million cubic meter. According to Iranian ambassador to Azerbaijan, Mohammad Bagher Bahram, Iranian-Azerbaijani relations have entered into a new stage. The economic focus is to strengthen relations in the oil, gas and energy fields. "We want to buy 5 billion cubic meters of gas," he said. Specialists of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) have initiated a feasibility study for a new pipeline that might allow flows of up to 10 billion cubic meters ( , 03 September 2010).

Dr. James J. Coyle is available to speak to your organization or at your event. Please contact him at