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Jun 13, 2022
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Russia-Turkmenistan Declaration: Now the Real Response to Sanctions

The declaration on the deepening of the strategic (!) partnership between Russia and Turkmenistan is not about inter-parliamentary exchanges, the fight against drug trafficking or the expansion of the teaching of the Russian language in the Central Asian state (for all the importance of these issues). The main thing is that the parties have reached or are very close to reaching agreements in the field of energy cooperation. And it’s easy to guess which ones.

Since the mid-1990s, a number of international companies, in particular Bridas Corporation (the author worked for five years in the communications department of its subsidiary in Turkmenistan) have been developing projects for the trans-Afghan gas pipeline TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India). Interestingly, most of the necessary field research along the Herat-Kandahar-Quetta route was carried out by French companies in the 1920s, when the Afghan railway was being designed. The possibility of building a gas pipeline bypassing the Hindu Kush presents no particular technical difficulties.

But there was a war in Afghanistan, and there was no one to agree on the “protection” of the gas pipeline. More precisely, when the company was almost negotiating with a dozen field commanders who controlled the route of the future pipeline, it suddenly turned out that two new ones had been added to the top ten: at least a few kilometers for themselves, but they “recaptured”. Or bought. Accordingly, they also need to negotiate. Moreover, the top ten did not want to give up their agreed income: what is ours is ours.

Another negative factor was that the projected gas pipeline did not meet the interests of the great powers. In that era, Russia almost did not think about alternatives to Europe, and Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan relied on China. Accordingly, Europe and China were also not interested in a project that diverts gas “to the side.” Not to mention the United States, which was not satisfied with the energy “dependence” of Pakistan and India on the Central Asian states and, as a very likely consequence, on Russia.

Today the situation has changed somewhat. The strategy of “sanctions” (acts of economic aggression) of the West against Russia is simple: you give in here, here and here. To start. And we will think about which of the sanctions to ease. May be. Someday. Appeal to international law or common sense is meaningless here. There is only one effective response to such a strategy. Make these “sanctions” meaningless, and make the damage from their application disproportionately painful for the side resorting to “sanctions”.

Are you threatening to give up Russian gas and oil? We ourselves will leave you without Russian gas and oil: (an oil pipeline along the TAPI is also not excluded). Perhaps you will have time to correct the situation if you cancel all 11,000 “sanctions” and pay indemnity for these acts of economic aggression. Then we will increase gas production in the Russian north. May be. Someday. You just have to understand that the gas pipeline is not a “sandwich”: in the event of reconciliation, you can’t shift it. No other language is available to them.

There are several markers that will indicate that events are developing in this direction.

First marker. “One-sided”, without regard to the “international community” recognition by Russia and at least Turkmenistan of the new authorities of Afghanistan.

Let us pay attention to the statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, made just a few days ago, on June 8:

“Regarding the prospects for a possible weakening of the UN Security Council sanctions regime and international recognition of the new authorities in Afghanistan, we would like to note that the Taliban Movement, as an organization, is not considered a terrorist organization in the United Nations. Security Council sanctions only apply to individual Taliban officials.”

This time, after the mention of the Taliban, there is no litter: “an organization banned in the Russian Federation” in the text of the message for the media on the official website of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Of course, the message contains a call to Kabul for a “compromise solution to form an ethnopolitically balanced power structure” (read: it would be necessary to increase the share of representation in power of Uzbeks, Tajiks, Shiites, Turkmens). But the main content of the message is “US attempts to create the appearance of its activation in the Afghan field” through meetings “with some Afghan political“ retirees ””, those “who personify the failure of the 20-year US democratization experiment in Afghanistan.” Conclusion: “the lack of fresh ideas among the Americans in the Afghan direction.” A legal basis is being created for the subsequent forced diplomatic steps of the Russian Federation in the Afghan direction.

Second marker. The reaction of Europe and China. The official one will follow after the first “decoding” of the Russian-Turkmen declaration, similar to the Russian-Kazakhstan or even the declaration of three states, any document where the intention to revive TAPI will be directly declared. Unofficial, at the level of experts (however, for China, the line between the opinion of the CPC and experts is conditional) may follow in the near future.

European experts should not be overestimated. Despite the events of the last 15 years after Vladimir Putin’s Munich speech in 2007 and the fulfillment of all his warnings, Europeans are still unable to understand the Russian diplomatic style, its honesty, openness and pedagogical value:

“The Russians’ first offer is the best. Each next one will be worse for you than the previous one.

In a word, European experts “will not be afraid” and will not yell in the voice of Cassandra that tomorrow reconciliation with Russia will cost an order of magnitude more than today. The likely reaction is “we will crush the project with new sanctions” or the usual: “Putin is bluffing.” (Like before August 2008, February 2014 and February 2022, yeah.)

China is more difficult. Let’s face it, the Celestial Empire has somewhat relaxed in its position as a near-monopoly buyer of Russian and Central Asian pipeline gas in East Asia. TAPI is an undesirable competition: if the “buyer’s market” does not turn into a “seller’s market”, then it becomes more balanced. On the other hand, among the new buyers are not only troubled India, but also allied Pakistan and Afghanistan, which is very promising for Chinese investments. Beijing, on the other hand, treats the alignment of allied axes much more responsibly than Washington or Brussels. One can hope that the attitude of the Chinese “independent experts” to the project will be benevolent and neutral.

The third marker is the reaction of Iran, Pakistan, India and the Gulf monarchies. We are watching to see if Iranian experts and the media will show enthusiasm for the possibility of connecting their gas fields to TAPI. And also whether New Delhi and Islamabad will take any steps that would justify the joint project in the eyes of the excited masses. India, for example, could again raise the status of the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir to a state (already without Ladakh), while Pakistan could welcome this step, declaring the prospects for improving relations between the countries.

The only unpleasant moment (let’s say, at the level of rumors in the South Asian expert community) is that both main recipients are under unprecedented pressure in order not to formalize this agreement with Russia until the same, at least a formal settlement of the armed conflict in Europe. There are facts of similar pressure on Kazakhstan. Good “news”: the TAPI project is based on an agreement between the countries that make up the abbreviation of the name. Kazakhstan can join it without any consequences for itself, while Russia can remain “as if out of business” until the very end. So, with the above-mentioned declaration of Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan on TAPI, you can wait: not words are the main thing.

And, of course, all these “diplomatic bombings” of Astana, Islamabad, New Delhi in no way prevent Russia from hastily shaping its future sector in such a way that, no matter what happens, it will be in demand. Recall that one of the lines of Nord Stream 2 has already been “attached” for gasification of the northern regions of Russia, potential consumers of the northwestern regions are looking forward to statements about the fate of the second line.

LNG tankers from Qatar and Saudi Arabia will not bring down the price of LNG in Europe, and those volumes that are tied to India will remain there – the subcontinent is developing rapidly. The monarchies here as a whole do not lose anything, the redistribution will be insignificant. We hope that their attitude will be neutral.

The fourth and last marker of the “threat” of the revival of a new, “Big” (with the participation of the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan) TAPI is the reaction of the United States. What kind of concern will American experts express and what kind of restrictions will be promised to Pakistan, India, Kazakhstan is a big and interesting question. As well as the consequences of such threats, if officials try to voice them after the media. India is already responding to attempts to lecture her almost “in a Lavrovian way”.

The peculiarity of the “Great TAPI” is that the construction from scratch will cover only 750 kilometers in Afghanistan. In the topographical and climatic conditions of the proposed route, with an oncoming laying, construction may take three to four months. The necessary infrastructure on the territory of Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan is largely ready or will be ready. Somewhere interconnectors will be required, somewhere a changeover to reverse – all this and many other work on optimizing the route will fully meet the deadlines for the construction of the Afghan section. Chelyabinsk pipe rolling with pipes 1420 mm – at a low start.

No maxim is perfect. Russia has repeated its “Best First Offer” many times and continues to do so. Do not understand. And they are confidently moving towards the fight “Windmills vs Firewood”. The construction and commissioning of TAPI can become really fast. This will be the most powerful “counter-sanction” from Russia. Alas (for Europe) – irrevocable.

Albert Hakobyan (Urumov)

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