On a tour of Central Asia, Iran’s President Mahmud Ahmadinejad arrived in Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat Jan. 5 to inaugurate a new natural-gas pipeline linking the the two countries. The Dovletabat-Sarakhs-Khangiran pipeline was formally opened in a ceremony with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. When fully operational, will more than double Turkmen gas exports to Iran—from 8 billion cubic meters (bcm) annually to 20 bcm.
Iran boasts the second-largest gas reserves in the world, but its dependence on gas for half of its energy needs makes it dependent on imports from Turkmenistan, which has the world’s fourth-largest reserves. Turkmenistan, in turn, is eager to develop export routes not controlled by Russia. When the USSR collapsed in 1991, all Turkmen gas was exported via Russian pipelines until the Korpeje-Kordkuy pipeline connecting Turkmenistan and Iran opened in 1997.
That pipeline has a capacity of 8 bcm but has rarely pumped more than 6.8 bcm, leaving Turkmenistan still largely dependent on Russian pipelines. The new Iran route holds the promise to change that—along with a new Turkmenistan-China pipeline (capacity 40 bcm) that opened last month.
At the start of 2009, Turkmenistan had contracts to sell an annual 8 bcm to Iran and 50-60 bcm of gas to Russia—although this only came to just over 11 bcm due to an April explosion that closed the pipeline to Russia. Bickering over the price for Turkmen gas and responsibility for the pipeline explosion finally ended last month when the two countries’ presidents met in Ashgabat. But the new Russian contract calls for 30 bcm of Turkmen gas, not 50 bcm. (RFE/RL, Jan. 6)
Oddly, the Iran pipeline opening comes just after Tehran accused Turkmenistan of hosting a UN nuclear monitoring station that was intended as a base for Western “espionage” efforts against the Islamic Republic.
Although the new pipeline is of comparatively moderate capacity and ostensibly intended for Iran’s domestic consumption, it is doubtless viewed by Western leaders as a step towards the nightmare scenario of an Iranian route for Caspian Basin oil to global markets—a likely incentive to the US intervention drive.