Russia is reportedly poised to finance a railway line connecting Iran with its northern neighbor Azerbaijan.
According to Tasnim news agency, head of the press service of Azerbaijan Railways OJSC Nadir Azmammadov, has said that Russian Railways OJSC has discussed the terms of its participation in the financing of the Rasht-Astara (Iran)-Astara (Azerbaijan) railway with the related parties in the Azeri capital, Baku.
The report said representatives of the railways of Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia attended the talks in which the Azeri side informed the partners about the projects and tasks ahead.
Baku believes the international transport corridor will improve Azerbaijan’s transit potential as well as its ties with the other two countries.
Participants in the talks reportedly signed a final protocol.
The trilateral railway project is aimed at connecting Northern Europe with Southeast Asia.
The railway line will initially transport five million tonnes of cargo when it is launched in the near future.
Last November, Iran and Russia signed an agreement worth 1.2 billion euros to electrify a train line, linking north-central Iran to the northeastern border with Turkmenistan.
The agreement signed between Russian Railways and the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways (RAI) envisages constructing power stations and overhead power lines along the Garmsar-Sari-Gorgan-Inche Burun route in Iran.
“The implementation of the contract will improve the capacity of passenger trains and raise transit to 8 million tonnes,” said RAI Managing Director Mohsen Poursaeed-Aqaei who signed the document.
The train line, among the first in Iran with a history of 80 years, extends to Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan and links the Central Asia to the Persian Gulf and beyond.
The project was also set to be financed by the Russian government and would be implemented in 36 months, which includes manufacturing all electric locomotives inside Iran, electrifying 495 kilometers of railway and building 32 stations and 95 tunnels.
The threat facing Turkmenistan is less of a Color Revolution than an Unconventional War. The catalyst for this conflict would be a terrorist invasion coming from Afghanistan that unexpectedly sweeps northwards along the Murgab River. Such an offensive doesn’t even have to reach the national capital in order to be successful, since all that it really needs to do is capture the city of Mary, the capital of the resource-rich Mary Region. This part of the country contains the lion’s share of Turkmenistan’s gas reserve, which includes the massive and decades-long functioning Dauletabad Field and the newly discovered Galkynysh Field, the latter being the world’s second-largest find.
It wouldn’t be all that difficult for terrorists to take over this plot of land either, since the Murgab River is scattered with tiny villages along its banks that could provide cover from government airstrikes and places to provoke pitched battles from. The fertile land nearby is endowed with agricultural potential that’s surely being stored somewhere closely accessible, and this could help feed the occupying forces until greater conquests are made. In short, the Murgab River is the most militarily and logistically sustainable route for an ISIL-like invasion of Turkmenistan, and it leads straight to the gas heart of Eurasia that’s critically connected to China and will possibly be linked to India in the coming decade as well.
The risk of terrorists gaining control of the largest source of China’s gas imports and possibly even destroying the facilities is too much for multipolar strategists in Beijing and Moscow to bear, and it’s assured that they’ve already engaged in some sort of unofficial contingency planning with their counterparts in Ashgabat. An anti-terrorist Chinese intervention is largely precluded due to geographic distances and a lack of support and logistics facilities en route, but the Russian military has no such hindrances and would be much more likely to assist the Turkmen authorities if called upon to do so. This is of course a last resort and would only be commissioned if Turkmenistan proves itself unable to stem the terrorist tide and defend its gas infrastructure, but such an event is most assuredly being planned for just in case the Turkmen-Afghan border proves to be just as fragile of a defense against terrorists as the Syrian-Iraqi one was before it.
Kazakhstan and the other three remaining states of former Soviet Central Asia are greatly at risk of a “Central Asian Spring” breaking out in the Fergana Valley, and Part IV of the Greater Heartland series will focus exclusively on this ever likely scenario. Accordingly, the rest of this section will explore the other Hybrid War vulnerabilities facing these four countries.
The geographically largest state in the Greater Heartland region is surprisingly immune from many of the conventional socio-political factors that lead to Hybrid Wars (excluding the variables that will later be discussed about the “Central Asian Spring”). If one was blind to the domestic and international contexts pertinent to Kazakhstan, then they’d be inclined to believe that the Russian population constitutes the greatest threat to the country’s sovereignty, although this couldn’t be anywhere further from the truth. Theoretically speaking, this demographic satisfies all of the criteria necessary for sparking a Hybrid War, but Kazakhstan’s multipolar alignment with the Eurasian Union and respectful treatment of this influential minority group precludes any chances that they or Russia would ever try to move forward with this scenario. On the reverse, the very inclusion of such a large Russian minority within Kazakhstan ties Astana and Moscow closer together than just about any other state in the former Soviet Union and works to enhance, not deteriorate, relations between them.
The only vulnerability in this relatively secure setup is if the US and its proxy NGO affiliates succeed in brainwashing the Russian-Kazakh population with Pravy Sektor- and Navalny-esque extreme nationalism, which could then create a delicate geopolitical situation where the raucous Russian minority agitates against Astana and attempts to drive a wedge between Kazakhstan and Russia. Security officials in both states are likely well aware of this obvious scenario and can be predicted to have rehearsed coordinated contingency measures for responding to it. Nonetheless, if such a virulent, discriminatory, and destructive ideology as “Greater Russian Nationalism” is allowed to fester in multicultural Kazakhstan and parts of the Russian Federation itself, then a scandalous outbreak in the Near Abroad could provoke a simultaneous cross-border event inside of Russia, especially if ‘sleeper sympathizers’ organize anti-government protests against Moscow’s “betrayal” of its compatriots out of its refusal to replicate the Crimean scenario in Northern Kazakhstan.
Another destabilization possibility that mustn’t be discounted in Kazakhstan is a repeat of the Zhanaozen riots, the ‘localized’ Color Revolution attempt that was sparked by a simmering labor dispute in 2011. The oil field workers were fed up with what they complained to be poor working conditions, low wages, and unpaid salaries, and this created an attractive atmosphere for Color Revolutionaries to exploit. Keeping with Color Revolution tradition, the riots started on 16 December, the 20th anniversary of Kazakh independence, and were presumably expected to signal the beginning of the regime change attempt to other cells across the country, almost one year to the day that the “Arab Spring” Color Revolution first broke out in Tunisia.
Seething with preexisting anger, the workers were extraordinarily easy to exploit, and the carnage they committed killed over a dozen people and injured more than 100 before a state of emergency and necessary military intervention restored order. The authorities’ decisive reaction and the multicultural, patriotic identity of most Kazakhs can be credited with preventing the spread of the Color Revolution virus from the distant Turkmen border all the way to centrally located capital, but the strategic lessons that can be learned from this episode are that: labor disputes and organizing could be both a cover and spark for a Color Revolution; and that destabilizations could start outside of the major cities and originate in the far-flung provinces.
This tiny mountainous republic is notably split along a steep North-South divide, with the capital of Bishkek being located along the northern plains while the major population centers of Jalal-abad and Osh reside in the southern Fergana Valley. The clan-based nature of Kyrgyz society has played a strong role in influencing the political system, and this has consequently created identity resentment among whichever group was disproportionately underrepresented at the given moment. Although the situation has relatively stabilized and become somewhat more ‘equitable’ since the 2010 Color Revolution, clan-based tension and its geographic affiliations are still deeply ingrained in the national psyche, and any visible calmness simply belies the aggravating tensions that lay just beneath the surface. As confirmation of this assessment, one need only remember the misleading “stability” that many had inaccurately judged to be prevalent in the country just prior to the 2005 and 2010 Color Revolutions, and after witnessing the ferocious clan-based and ethnic violence that exploded after each of them, it’s improbable to assume that the individual drivers of such identity conflicts simply disappeared on their own after only half a decade.
What really happened is that they went underground as usual and abstained from the national discourse, while still remaining psychologically mobilized and ready to act the moment a future destabilization distracts or dissolves the security forces and provides another strategic opening for settling unresolved blood feuds that still linger from last time. The most violent-prone area of Kyrgyzstan is its southern Fergana region that abuts Uzbekistan, and it’s here where radical Islamic elements have taken root. The difficulty in forcibly eradicating them is that any major Kyrgyz security operation so close to the Uzbek border, let alone one that potentially targets ethnic Uzbeks, could create a hostile impression towards much-stronger Uzbekistan, which in turn could use the events as a pretext for activating a prearranged plan to mobilize in response to the ‘human rights violations’ allegedly being committed against its ethnic compatriots. Tashkent’s geopolitical loyalty has always been nebulous and ill-defined, and the country’s been working more closely with the US ever since the 2014 drawdown in Afghanistan. Washington needs a Lead From Behind partner in Central Asia, and it’s possible that Uzbekistan has been designated this role, which if it doesn’t comply with, could lead to the “Central Asian Spring” scenario that will soon be discussed.
To return to the Hybrid War threats facing Kyrgyzstan, it’s important to highlight that the country’s mountainous terrain is very accommodating to guerrilla warfare. The southern mountain ranges are sparsely populated and the government barely has any presence in some of the more isolated areas. Looking at the regional geography at play, it’s conceivable that Fergana-based terrorists could receive weapons and fighters from Afghanistan by taking advantage of the lack of governance present in Southern Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. After all, this route is already used to smuggle tons of drugs, so it’s certainly possible that it could be used to transport terrorists and weapons along the way as well (if this isn’t being done already). It’s very difficult for the Kyrgyz authorities to exert full control over this region because of tight financial and human resources, a current prioritization on the more populated areas, and the inhibitive geography involved.
To emphasize the last point, wintertime typically renders all of the few north-south roads impassable and strands the mountainous southern-based citizens in their villages for the duration of the season. This effectively splits the country into two, and if timed to coincide with a Hybrid War, then it could give the regime change insurgents active in that region enough time to consolidate their gains and prepare for the hostilities that would inevitably recommence after the snow melts in spring. When one thinks of a terrorist-driven “caliphate”, the last thing that probably comes to mind is a mountainous, snow-covered retreat, but this is exactly what ISIL or any likeminded group could feasibly create in Southern Kyrgyzstan if they played their cards ‘right’. It would be extremely challenging to dislodge the terrorists in such a scenario, and the danger in doing so would critically spike if it were revealed that they had access to anti-aircraft weapons. The Kyrgyz military would obviously be unsuited for such a difficult task and would have to resort to their Russian partners in the CSTO for assistance, with Moscow predictably helping through a combination of drone surveillance and air strikes just as it’s currently doing in Syria at the moment.
The threat facing Tajikistan is structurally similar to the one in Kyrgyzstan, and it’s that the country’s large swath of mountainous geography could be exploited by terrorist groups in facilitating smuggling routes or providing cavernous shelter. It goes without saying that Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan is perhaps its greatest vulnerability, but some respite could be found in the fact that there are more ethnic Tajiks in Afghanistan than in Tajikistan, and that if this community were properly mobilized to its fullest extent, then it could provide an effective bulwark against the Taliban and other terrorist groups. At the moment, however, this doesn’t seem to be the case, since the Taliban was able to briefly capture the northern provincial capital of Kunduz at the end of September and achieve their greatest military success since 2001.
Up to this point, it had been largely assumed that this part of Afghanistan was the least welcoming to the Taliban owing to the valiant history of the Northern Alliance and the relatively secular Tajik community that inhabits the region. What Kunduz taught observers is that these two factors are no longer the strongest determinants of regional security, and that the Taliban has succeeded in the past decade and a half in proselytizing their ideology, gaining sympathizers, and infiltrating enough fighters into the area so as to set up an effective base of operations. The converts that they’ve claimed, the supporters that they’ve acquired, and the terrorists that they’ve relocated to Northern Afghanistan all played an integral role in the Taliban’s capture of Kunduz, and just because they had to conventionally retreat from the city doesn’t mean that their soft infrastructure had to withdraw as well. The reason that this is relevant to Tajikistan is that it proves that the Taliban have a strong presence right along the Amu Darya river border and that fears about their cross-border militant potential are not misplaced.
More domestically, however, the greatest threat comes from the Islamic Renaissance Party, the newly banned organization that represented the last legal party of political Islam in the region. The process was in the works for a while, but ultimately it was decided that the group was full of terrorists and needed to be shut down as soon as possible, with the decision being spurred by rogue former Deputy Defense Minister Abdukhalim Nazarzoda’s coup attempt earlier that month. He and a group of followers slaughtered over 30 soldiers in the capital of Dushanbe before fleeing into the mountains where they were finally hunted down and killed a week later. The subsequent investigation revealed that the deputy head of the Islamic Renaissance Party, Mahmadali Hayit, had consorted with the coup plotters earlier in the year and that 13 members of the party were suspected of being involved in the attacks, so it makes absolute sense that the organization would be outlawed soon thereafter in the interests of national security. At the same time, however, the proclamation came so abruptly that the authorities didn’t have time to completely extinguish the organization, and countless sympathizers and probable sleeper cells can be assumed to be embedded in society. Whether they’ll make the transition to militant action on behalf of the terrorist organization or repent for their prior allegiance to it and disown its ideology remain to be seen, but the actionable threat remains nonetheless and is obviously a destabilizing factor that could be leveraged in any coming Hybrid War against Tajikistan.
Aside from the “Central Asian Spring” scenario that will be detailed in Part IV, there are still quite a few other Hybrid War threats facing the region’s largest country. Uzbekistan is first and foremost threatened by a complete breakdown in law and order stemming from a succession crisis after the passing of Islam Karimov. The author previously explored the contours of these chilling possibilities in his piece “Uzbekistan’s Bubbling Pot Of Destabilization”, but to concisely summarize, the clan-based nature of Uzbek society coupled with the competition between the National Security Service and the Interior Ministry creates a cataclysmic scenario where a black hole of disorder arises in the heart of Central Asia and rapidly spreads throughout the rest of the region.
The only thing that could stop the previously held-together society from dramatically decentralizing down to Somalian-style warlordship would be the rapid reconsolidation of power under one of the two competing security agencies, but since their rivalry could predictably intensify in the days following Karimov’s death (and with the resultant security breakdown this would entail if they focus more on one another than on their designated subjects), it can’t be precluded that Uzbekistan could unravel before anyone realizes what even happened. Of course, if Karimov publicly designates a successor prior to his death or steps down and allows his designee to rule before then, this could potentially assuage the risks inherent in this scenario, but it doesn’t look too likely that this would happen, nor would these steps prevent the rival agency from attempting a major power play the moment the ‘head honcho’ inevitably dies anyhow.
Parallel with this possible tumult could be an explosion of terrorism from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Hizb ut Tahrir, ISIL, the Taliban, some yet-to-be-named organization, and/or a combination of these groups, which would exacerbate the already deteriorating security situation in the country and divide the security services’ focus even more. There’s also the likelihood that the Taliban or ISIL might even make a conventional move on Uzbekistan amidst the greater breakdown of regional order, which in that case would usher in a global crisis similar to the one that transpired when ISIL crossed into and began conquering Iraq.
Therefore, true to the theory of Hybrid War, any type of social disruption in the tightly controlled Uzbek society, be it through a Color Revolution, succession crisis, or a combination of factors, would create a tantalizing opportunity for Unconventional Warriors to rise up against the state and increase the odds of regime change. In this case, if there’s no real government in power at the moment, then it would prolong the “regime vacuum” and amplify country’s disorder until it reaches the critical point of spreading to its neighbors. Therefore, in such a scenario as the one previously described, it’s important for some leader or leading entity (e.g. military junta) to assume power as soon as possible in order to preempt a regional breakdown. In hindsight, it was precisely this quick emergence of leadership, however weak and fragmented, that emerged in Kyrgyzstan after the 2010 Color Revolution that helped to miraculously contain the chaos and prevent it from turning into a “Central Asian Spring”.
Before addressing this curious concept that’s been alluded to a few times already, it’s necessary to briefly touch upon a minor socio-political factor in Uzbekistan that shouldn’t be overlooked when discussing forthcoming disorder there. The autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan is a little-known administrative entity in the former Soviet Union that handsomely sits atop rich oil and gas reserves and provides transit to two energy pipelines to Russia. The dried-up majority of the Aral Sea has endowed the region even more oil and gas than was previously accessible, meaning that Karakalpakstan will likely become more important than ever to the Uzbek state.
Still, its energy potential isn’t the exact reason why the autonomous republic is brought up when discussing Hybrid War scenarios, since there lately have been whispers of a Karakalpakstan “independence” movement that provocatively wants to join Russia. In all probability, this isn’t a genuine movement but rather a proxy front controlled by the US to advance the objective of straining the already frayed ties between Russia and Uzbekistan. The appearance of a “pro-Russian” separatist organization at the crossroads of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan isn’t incidental, and its’ designed to destabilize the entire region if ever given the opportunity. On its own, the Karakalpakstan “independence” movement is powerless to do anything to upset the Central Asian balance, but in the event that the eastern more populated part of the country descends into bedlam following one or some of the abovementioned scenarios, then it’s likely that this group will emerge from the shadows (or more likely, be parachuted or infiltrated into the theater) to violently lay stake to its secessionist claim so that it can then transform into an American protectorate.
To be continued…
Andrew Korybko is the American political commentator currently working for the Sputnik agency. He is the post-graduate of the MGIMO University and author of the monograph “Hybrid Wars: The Indirect Adaptive Approach To Regime Change” (2015). This text will be included into his forthcoming book on the theory of Hybrid Warfare.
The special attention that the United States has been paying to Central Asia, while actively seeking ways to implement a strategy of global leadership in the region that is now fully recognized as the center of Eurasia, has been covered in numerous articles, including those published in NEO.
According to the geopolitical concept of the recognized American political scientist Zbigniew Brzezinski: Those who control Eurasia control the world. Therefore, Washington’s steps to strengthen American influence in the region in the long run are completely predictable. The pivotal role in this policy is played by the US military bases in the region and military cooperation ties. After all, according to the globalist logic of the White House, American influence in any region must be supported by the “adequate” military force. The 9/11 events in the US and the consequent anti-terrorist intervention in Afghanistan have become a pretext for a major military deployment of American and NATO troops in Central Asia.
By the way, the ongoing engagement of US troops in Afghanistan confirms the notion that the presence of US and NATO forces in this country has little to do with the “struggle for democracy”. The true purpose of the military intervention in Afghanistan was the creation of powerful military bases, as the geographical position of this country is pretty unique in terms of the strategic freedom it provides. From this area Washington can launch a massive attack against Russia’s Urals and Siberia, different facilities in Central Asia, Iran, Pakistan, India and China. For this reason from the very start of the US invasion of Afghanistan, Shindand and Bagram Air Bases were transformed into massive construction sites where a large number of surface and underground facilities being built.
It happens so that for Pentagon Central Asia serves as a base for applying pressure on Russia, China, Iran and the entire Eurasian continent, it also plays a pivotal role in the post-conflict settlement in Afghanistan, since it may form a joint military alliance under the banner of opposition to the Islamic state.
In an effort to strengthen its positions in Central Asia under the above mentioned pretext, the United States has sent invitations to join the anti-ISIL military coalition to both Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. To add some momentum to the matter the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Central Asia at the U.S. Department of State Daniel Rosenblum has recently visited Tashkent, while the commander of United States Central Command general John Lloyd James Austin III made a trip to Dushanbe. In the course of their visits American emissaries discussed the situation in Afghanistan, regional security, and the advantages of cooperation with the United States “in the fight against international extremism” with regional authorities. Of course, a particular emphasis was made on the “need” to stay away from integration with Russia.
It is clear that in dealing with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan “messengers of Washington” tried to make active use of the fact that those states today are free from obligations of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which is headed by Russia, and therefore they are free to pursue military cooperation with the US. Therefore, Washington and Tashkent signed a document that provides the latter with free shipments of military equipment in the next five years. American equipment, trucks, military vehicles for a total worth of 6.2 million dollars will be just granted to this Central Asian state. This year, the United States has handed over to Uzbekistan armored class M-ATV, as well as armored repair and recovery equipment to support them, 308 cars and 20 repairs trucks with a total cost of at least 150 million dollars.
In dealing with Uzbek authorities American envoys had to mind the fact that the country entered the international counter-terrorism coalition immediately after September 11, 2001, while establishing special relations with a number of Western countries. As a result, the territory of the Republic at the time was housing a US military base, while the German Air Force had the opportunity to use the airfield in Termez, near the border with Afghanistan. Cooperation with Germany has been prolonged recently for a couple more years, though Tashkent is stressing the fact that the airfield in Termez is not a foreign military base. There’s little wonder to this fact, since the presence of foreign military bases was prohibited by law in Uzbekistan after the Andijan events, therefore in 2005 at the request of the Uzbek authorities American soldiers had to pack and leave.
Uzbekistan, is seeking ways to retain non-aligned status, and has no plans to allow any foreign military bases on its territory, on top of that it remains reluctant to send Uzbek troops abroad. This was pretty much the answer that the President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov has given to Washington’s offer to join a coalition against the Islamic state.
However, Washington’s attempts to strengthen its military and political influence in Central Asia are far from over. Such efforts will certainly continue, despite the apparent reluctance of regional players to burden themselves with military obligations to the United States. America has severely damaged its reputation, therefore nobody believes in its peacemaking aspirations anymore, since the wars it has been waging are only leading to the suffering and misery of the civilian population of the countries it invades.
China, the world’s largest energy consumer, has started receiving natural gas transported through the newly constructed Line C of the crucial China-Central Asia gas pipeline network on Sunday, state media reported.
Gas transported through Line C, which is now operational, successfully reached the Horgos Port in China’s Xinjiang province on Sunday.
Line C is over 1,800 kilometers long and runs parallel to lines A and B, with the pipeline network showing Beijing’s growing clout in Central Asia as it seeks resources for the Chinese economy.
China imports about 20 bcm of gas from Turkmenistan, about half of its total gas imports, and the two countries signed an agreement last year to ramp up gas exports to 65 bcm by 2020.
Central Asia is seeking new export routes for the fuel as transport routes to Europe via Russia are now in question following the EU sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine.
China’s first large international pipeline for imported natural gas, the China-Central Asia line starts at the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan border before passing through central Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan before entering China.
From Horgos in Xinjiang, the pipeline then connects with China’s West-East pipelines, to deliver natural gas across the country.
Trade between China and Central Asia has increased from about $500 million in 1992 to $26 billion in 2009, according to official Chinese figures.
The Central Asia-China gas pipeline runs all the way from China’s east coast cities to Galkynysh field, a distance of 6000 miles as it sources energy from major energy producers Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
China’s energy giant CNPC also plans to integrate Afghanistan into this energy network.
TBP and Agencies
Iran has officially inaugurated a railroad which connects the northern Iranian city of Gorgan to Incheh Borun town along the border with Turkmenistan.
The Gorgan-Incheh Borun railroad came on stream in a ceremony attended by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Roads and Urban Development Minister Ali Nikzad in Golestan Province on Monday.
The 80-kilometer long rail project, which is part of a broader railroad network, links Iran to Central Asia, Russia and China and has the capacity to annually transfer 10 million tons of goods and more than 4 million passengers.
The initial agreement on the construction of the railroad was signed between the presidents of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan in the city of Turkmenbashi in April 2007 and Iran joined the deal in September 2007.
The 920-kilometer railroad will shorten more than 600 kilometers of the route for transporting goods from the Central Asia to the Persian Gulf, and will become one of the important international transportation links between China and Europe.
Earlier on Sunday, Nikzad said projects are underway to connect Iran’s railway system to the international network via five points.
The Iranian minister said the five projects include linking Sarakhs in the northeast of the country to Azerbaijan Republic, Khosravy in the west of Iran’s Kermanshah Province to Iraq, southern border town of Shalamche to Iraq, southeastern port city of Chabahar to the Sea of Oman as well as the one which will link Iran to Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and China.
- Caspian Rail Corridor to link Russia to India (rbth.asia)
Turkmenistan is persevering with efforts to persuade an international oil major to join the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project, according to reports in India, despite being unwilling to give up a stake in its gas fields to potential investors.
A series of road shows in New York, London and Singapore in the autumn, aimed at attracting international oil and gas companies to the project, ended in failure, even though companies including Chevron, Exxon Mobil, BP, BG Group, RWE and Petronas attended. That disappointment flew in the face of claims from Turkmen officials that they had all expressed an interest in the project, which carry gas from the secretive Central Asian state via Afghanistan to the Indian sub-continent.
Ashgabat’s refusal to allow participating companies to take a stake in the Turkmen hydrocarbons fields that would fill the pipeline has been cited as the main reason for the flop, although the continuing instability in Afghanistan is another factor.
India’s Economic Times cites an unnamed Indian government official as saying that, as the four participating countries prepare for a meeting on May 15, Turkmen officials continue trying to persuade an unnamed international oil major to take part. “Our understanding is that [Turkmenistan is] quietly working with international oil companies to work a way around the question of upstream stake,” the official said.
However, he also noted that the ban on sales of stakes in Turkmen fields to foreign buyers remains a sticking point. “They have told us that they have passed a law after the Chinese were given a stake and this now does not allow them to give a stake to anybody else in the gas fields,” the official said. It’s unclear to which deal he was exactly referring.
Ashgabat is secretive over its agreements in the oil and gas sector. In 2007, China’s CNPC was given the right to develop the Bagtyyarlyk gas field, which supplies the Central Asia-China (CAC) gas pipeline exporting to China. However, the level of access Bejing enjoys to the Galkynysh (previously South Yolotan) gas field remains unknown after the Chinese State Development Bank pledged $4.1bn to help develop it in 2010. On the one hand, it’s thought Turkmenistan may have signed over a stake. Other speculation suggests Ashgabat has offered no more than a firm commitment that CAC is filled.
Either way, India is clearly pushing for a similar level of security. It has been pushing for an equity stake in the massive Galkynysh for itself, to ensure supply issues do not compromise the massive financial commitment needed to build TAPI. Indian officials say that since CNPC has been given access to upstream assets in Turkmenistan, India’s state owned GAIL should have the same privilege.
At the same time, the four states participating in TAPI have maintain that they aim to start construction of the pipeline, which has support from the Asian Development Bank, by the end of 2013. However, on top of the jockeying between themselves, they are trying to drum up support from international oil companies to invest in the project, which may cost as much as $12bn.
Agreements on the price of gas exports to Afghanistan, India and Pakistan have already been signed. In September, the four participating governments agreed to proposal from Turkmenistan to set up a company with shared capital of $20m to carry out a feasibility study and design the pipeline.
There is a high probability that US sanctions against Iran have been violated by its own army. Part of the $1.55 billion in fuel the US bought from Turkmenistan for the Afghan army in the last five years may have originated in Iran.
A report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) suggested that “despite actions taken by DOD to prevent the purchase of Iranian fuel with US funds, risks remain that US economic sanctions could [have been] violated” from 2007 to 2012.
Most of the fuel for domestic Afghan consumption comes from neighboring Iran. Because of the US sanctions on Tehran restricting the trade of Iranian oil and petroleum products, the ISAF has been required to abide by the regulations and buy petrol from eight Afghan-owned companies that deliver petroleum from Turkmenistan, which borders both Iran and Afghanistan.
The SIGAR report also acknowledged there are no plausible oversight mechanisms to make sure Iranian petroleum products are not included in future fuel purchases.
Turkmenistan is a major regional oil producer, which also trades for petroleum products made in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Russia and Iran. Petrol vendors in Turkmenistan use flexible supply schemes, meaning that fuel of various origins could potentially be blended together.
In response to a draft of SIGAR report, the US Embassy in Kabul stated that “it is possible that if blending is taking place in Turkmenistan it could contain some Iranian fuel,” but refused to admit that fuel imported from Russia could also be blended with Iranian fuel prior to its import into Afghanistan.
“All fuel imports carry a ‘verified Fuel Passport’ from the refinery, which provides information on the origin, quantity, quality, and specifications of the fuel,” the embassy explained.
“Suppliers are unlikely to blend Iranian fuel, or any other product, with other sourced fuel because of the potential that blending could cause product deviation from specification standards and potentially cause a rejection of the entire shipment,” the embassy said.
In 2012, the Pentagon reportedly spent over $800 million on imports from Turkmenistan, most likely for fuel purchases.
Iran has officially begun pumping crude from an oil field it shares with it western neighbor Iraq, the managing director of the Iranian Central Oil Fields Company (ICOFC) says.
Speaking in a press conference on Tuesday, Mehdi Fakour said development and crude oil production from the Aban oil field has started.
Iran shares oil and gas fields with most of its neighbors, including Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar as well as Oman and Turkmenistan.
The official noted that Iran has not lagged behind its neighboring countries in developing the fields it shares, adding, “Currently, ten drilling rigs are operating simultaneously in the country’s joint oil fields.”
Fakour also stated that since the beginning of the current Iranian calendar year [March 20, 2012], USD1.2 billion of funds have been supplied by companies other than the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) for investment in Iran’s oil and gas projects.
Iran holds the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves and the second-largest natural gas reserves.
The country’s total in-place oil reserves have been estimated at more than 560 billion barrels, with about 140 billion barrels of extractable oil. Moreover, heavy and extra heavy varieties of crude oil account for roughly 70-100 billion barrels of the total reserves.
Iranian energy officials said in July 2011 that as much as 35 percent of the country’s energy development budget would go towards the development of the shared oil fields.
TEHRAN – Iranian Minister of Road and Urbanization Ali Nikzad said Ashgabat’s recent decision to annul a contract with an Iranian company over the construction of a key railway linking Iran to the Central Asia does not mean an end to the project and Tehran will accomplish construction of the railway which is a vital North-South corridor.
“The termination of Turkmenistan’s contract with an Iranian company will not affect the two country’s joint railway construction project,” Nikzad told FNA on Monday.
“This railway line will be inaugurated in due time,” the Iranian minister reiterated.
Meantime, he said Turkmenistan might have annulled the contract with the Iranian company in a bid to strike a better deal with the same or a different contractor.
Yet, the Iranian minister underscored that Iran will accomplish its undertakings with regard to this project.
Earlier media reports said that Turkmenistan has annulled a $700 million contract for an Iranian company to build a key section of the key railway line.
The decision was made at a cabinet meeting chaired by President Gurbanguly Berdimuhammadov.
During the cabinet meeting, the Turkmen president said Turkmenistan will build this section independently.
Yesterday, Iran started laying the rail line of a key transit and transportation project linking Iran’s Northern city of Gorgan to IncheBoron in Turkmenistan.
Speaking to FNA, Iranian Deputy Minister of Road and Urbanization Seyed Ahmad Sadeqi said that the last phase of the construction of the railway officially started in a ceremony with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in attendance.
He said that construction of the infrastructures of the 80km long railway has already been finished.
The railway will link Iran to Turkmenistan and then to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and will connect the CIS countries with the Indian Ocean and high seas and the Persian Gulf littoral states.
The primary agreement on the construction of the rail link among Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan was signed between presidents of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan in April 2007 in the city of Turkmenbashi and its final agreement was signed in a summit meeting in Tehran in September of the same year by the three presidents.
The total route of the railway is 1000 kilometers, of which 90 kilometers would be in Iran, 700 kilometers in Turkmenistan and 210 kilometers in Kazakhstan.
The railway facilitates transportation of goods from the Central Asian countries to the Persian Gulf.
- Turkmenistan: Ashgabat Stops Iranian Railroad Project In Its Tracks (eurasiareview.com)
- Iran And Turkmenistan Ready To Develop Trade (rferl.org)
- Iran welcomes Tajik proposal for railroad link to China (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Iran’s Minister of Road and Urban Development Ali Nikzad says Tehran welcomes a proposal by the Tajik government to connect the Iranian rail network to the city of Kashgar in China via Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
In a meeting with the visiting Tajik Minister of Transportation and Communications Nizam Hakim Oaf on Sunday, Nikzad said the 392 kilometers (km) long rail corridor will connect Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and China.
“It will increase trade exchange and export volume, reduce transit costs among these countries and facilitate the transport of cargo and passengers in the region,” he added.
The Iranian minister also pointed to the 15,000 km railroad tracks in Iran, saying the country’s railroads are currently connected to Turkmenistan through Gorgan city, to Iraq via Shalamcheh border crossing, to Azerbaijan through Astara port city, and also to Afghanistan through Khaf-Herat railroad.
The Tajik minister, for his part, said the most complicated part of the project is a 270 km-long section that includes 16 km of tunnels and 47 bridges, and needs about USD 8-10 million for every kilometer of the line.
He added that the first phase of the project is 335.4 km and will cost USD 169.5 million while the second phase needs USD 96.4 million in investment. The final stage, Hakim Oaf said, which includes building anti-avalanche structures, will cost USD 30 million.
The Tajik minister of transportation and communications is currently in Iran to take part in a two-day international conference dubbed “South Khorasan, Transit and Development of East Axis.” The event will open in Iran’s eastern city of Birjand on Monday, April 7, attended by participants from 18 countries.
- Iran, Tajikistan trade turnover exceeded $500 million: envoy – Tehran Times (tajikistanfocus.wordpress.com)
The United States strongly supports the idea of construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. At the same time, Washington strongly opposes meeting of Pakistan’s needs in energy resources by constructing pipeline to purchase “blue fuel” from Iran, ITAR-TASS quotes U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as saying on Wednesday.
Speaking at hearings in one of the subcommittees of Appropriations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, she assured that Obama administration recognizes Islamabad’s “essential energy needs”. However, construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan, either as a separate project of Tehran, or as a joint venture of the two sides would mean a “violation of our (that is, the U.S.) legislation on sanctions” against the Islamic Republic, Clinton said.
“We all know what would be the consequences of this. And it would have particularly devastating effect on Pakistan, because its economy is already fragile. Additional pressure to which the United States would have been forced to resort, would undermine their (that is Pakistanis) economic situation even more,” Clinton added.
She said the U.S. “clearly” stated its position on this issue to Pakistan. “We urge Pakistan to seek alternatives (to purchasing natural gas from Iran),” Clinton added.
From her point of view, it is “a little inexplicable” why Pakistan now “tries to negotiate (with Iran) on the construction of the pipeline,” knowing that Washington is trying hard to “increase pressure” on Tehran in connection with its refusal to clarify nature of nuclear activities. “And there is an alternative, which we strongly support – Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India the gas pipeline. We believe that this is a better alternative in terms of both predictability and avoid doing business with Iran,” U.S. Secretary of State said.
- US lobbies Pakistan to drop Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- US threatens Pakistan with sanctions over Iran gasline (nation.com.pk)