Russia has recently scored two significant victories in the Caspian energy arena,

US seeks Caspian energy reserves

01 February 2008

Oil Installation (Jane�s/Patrick Allen)

An often-resuscitated term ‚the Great Game‘ has been used to describe the jockeying for influence in Central Asia and access to its rich hydrocarbon reserves. Yet, since Russia’s relative renaissance under President Vladimir Putin, competition for energy has resembled less of a game and more of a one-sided walk in the park for Moscow.

However, the United States is attempting to make a diplomatic push to reassert itself in the Caspian energy arena after suffering recent setbacks, particularly focusing on the new president of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, believing it can persuade him to open up his country’s vast reserves of natural gas to alternate export options. However, it appears that this most recent effort is too little, too late, and that the US has all but ceded influence over Turkmenistan’s gas to Russia.

Russia already accounts for 97 per cent of Turkmenistan’s gas exports and, in a further consolidation of this, Russia, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan signed an agreement in December to build a gas pipeline along the edge of the Caspian Sea, taking natural gas from Turkmenistan into the Russian network.

Washington is backing a trans-Caspian pipeline project that would take gas from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan and then to existing pipelines through Georgia to Turkey, but that may not be commercially viable if the Russia-Turkmenistan pipeline gets built.

Recent events indicate Berdymukhammedov is interested in breaking the Russian stranglehold on Turkmenistan’s gas exports. Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited Turkmenistan in November and Berdymukhammedov reiterated plans to export gas to China through a pipeline due to come online in 2009. He has also refused to rule out the possibility of a trans-Caspian pipeline.

Berdymukhammedov has given few indications of how he intends to carry out his foreign policy. While he does not appear to be committed to any pro-Western policy he does have a technocratic desire to develop the country – a desire that the US intends to appeal to.

Turkmenistan appears to be trying to play Russia, the US and China off against of each other, with the aim of getting as many concessions as possible from each. However, the true competition for future influence in Central Asia will be between Moscow and Beijing.