Moscow and Ashkhabad to decide on gas transit

Jan 12, 1998 01:00 AM

Moscow and Ashkhabad will try early next week to resolve a difficult problem of transporting Turkmenistan gas across Russia to markets of the CIS and Europe. This move will rebuff, thereby, "third forces," interfering with cooperation between Russia and Central Asian republics.
A solution of the Russian transit problem has been repeatedly put off for nearly a year. Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin failed to come to Turkmenistan on a visit late in December.
At that time, the Russian premier and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov decided that questions for discussion "have not been fully prepared. "
The new date for a visit was scheduled for Monday, January 12. However, a delay for one day happened in this case too. According to dispatches from Ashkhabad, Niyazov instructed the government to carry an additional serious preparation for the visit of the Russian high guest. In other words, agreement of joint documents will proceed till the last minute.
In the meantime, Ashkhabad has already come to agreement on construction of gas pipelines, bypassing Russia along a southern corridor across Afghanistan to Pakistan and across Iran to Turkey.
Recognising Turkmenistan's right to decide independently where and which way to export its gas, Chernomyrdin is sure at the same time that Russian transit is the cheapest.
"All this was calculated back in Soviet times. The southern corridor will be 100-200 % more expensive, and it should be calculated what damages the state will suffer," he said.
The Prime Minister is sure that "third forces" act against Russian transit. "We know them by name," said the premier, adding that the same forces were interfering with concluding the treaty between Russia and Turkey to supply Russian gas along the Black Sea bottom.
"Third forces" try also to interfere in issues of cooperation between Caspian states, which will be discussed in Ashkhabad too. Chernomyrdin did not name these forces, stating only that they are represented by "states which are not situated even close to the Caspian."
The problem of Russian transit popped up last year in connection with the termination of operations of the Turkmenrosgaz company, the basis of strategic partnership between the two states.
It was founded by the Turkmenneftegaz corporation, Russian Gazprom and the Itera company registered in the United States. The Turkmen government laid the main claims precisely to that company, as the operator of Turkmen gas. They were based on a huge debt (over $ 400 mm ) to Turkmenrosgaz for gas delivered in 1996 and early 1997.
The transit problem was raised at the top level during Niyazov's visit to Moscow last August. However, the situation waits for its solution up to this time. The sides cannot find a trading intermediary who would enjoy similar confidence both of Russian Gazprom and the Turkmen government.
Moscow and Ashkhabad cannot agree either on the price of Turkmen gas, brought to the Russian border and on the cost of its transit. Ashkhabad claims that a Russian price can make gas too expensive.
For instance, Ukraine, one of the main consumers of Turkmen gas, stated that it does not intend to pay more than $ 66 for 1,000 cubic meters of gas in 1998.
Chernomyrdin is to cut this Gordian knot of problems during his visit.
Other topics for talks will include participation of Russian firms in construction of gas pipelines to Pakistan and Turkey. An international consortium has been already working on the first project. Incidentally, Gazprom owns 10 % of shares in this consortium.

Source: not available
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