Azeri Efforts to Manage European & Russian Interests In Its Resources

Via The International Herald Tribune, an interesting look at Azerbaijan’s efforts to play Europe and Russia off against each other during the tug-of-war over over Azerbaijan’s energy resources.  As the article notes:

“…Over the past two months, Russia and the United States, acting with the Europeans, have stepped up their attentions to this mostly Muslim nation of 8.5 million people. In addition to selling its gas, Azerbaijan wants to parlay the international interest into the resolution of its conflict over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, occupied by Armenians since a bloody ethnic war ended in 1994.

It inched toward that goal in a meeting on Nov. 2, where the two sides agreed to resolve the dispute under Russian, U.S. and French mediation, easing tensions in the South Caucasus after two Azerbaijani oil-export routes were disrupted by the Georgian war.

“This is our neighborhood, and everything that happens here worries us,” says Novruz Mammadov, head of President Ilham Aliyev’s foreign-policy department.

Given its strategic location between the Caspian and Black seas, Azerbaijan is used to being in the middle. Since becoming independent in 1991, it has sought to minimize reliance on Soviet-era pipelines that go through Russia, a major trading partner and home to two million Azeris. At the same time, it has maintained neighborly relations.

“We have a strategic partnership with Russia and with the U.S., and we don’t see any contradiction,” said Khazar Ibrahim, spokesman for the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry.

Vice President Dick Cheney visited Baku in September, followed a month later by the U.S. deputy secretary of state, John Negroponte. In between, Aliyev, 46, was invited to Moscow for a one-day visit with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. The European Union’s energy commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, is due in Baku this month.

One topic of discussion is the natural-gas field Shah Deniz II, with reserves estimated to at least equal the nine billion cubic meters, or 318 billion cubic feet, produced by the project’s first phase. That gas is now sold at home and to Turkey and Georgia.

Once the second phase is developed, the Moscow-based Gazprom OAO, which holds a monopoly on Russian exports, wants to buy the gas to bolster reserves for future contractual commitments. The United States and the European Union want the new supplies sent directly to Europe through the proposed Nabucco pipeline, an $8 billion venture at the center of the region’s efforts to reduce dependence on Russia.

Diversification of sources and routes has been a European priority since January 2006, when Russia, which accounts for 25 percent of EU gas imports, briefly halted shipments over a price dispute with Ukraine, a transit country.

Azerbaijan has yet to decide when it will develop Shah Deniz II and says it is waiting for the Europeans to make an offer. Azerbaijan can bide its time, Mammadov said.

“We have said no to the Russians, for now,” he said. “To the Europeans, we have said we are ready to be good partners: for oil, for gas, for transit; but they need this, not us.”

In trying to strike a balance between East and West, Aliyev is following in the footsteps of his father, whom he succeeded as president in 2003. Heydar Aliyev, a former KGB general, played a key role in securing one link with Europe that bypasses Russia: a $4 billion pipeline that, by 2005, was carrying Azerbaijani oil from the Caspian region through Georgia to Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.

Operated by the London-based BP, Europe’s second-largest oil company, the pipeline now exports a million barrels of oil a day on average – roughly 1 percent of the world’s supply.

The International Monetary Fund predicts Azerbaijan’s gross domestic product will total $53.2 billion this year, compared with $8.6 billion in 2004.

Revenue will probably shrink in 2009 as declining economic growth worldwide slows demand for crude oil. Prices had fallen by 56 percent to about $65 a barrel Nov. 3 from a record $147.27 on July 11.

For now, though, the signs of oil wealth are everywhere in Baku. In its old city, tycoons have rebuilt modern villas on narrow, winding streets in the style of the mansions of their 19th-century predecessors. Oil has always been key to the fortunes of Baku: Marco Polo spotted a gusher here in the 14th century. In the 1800s, it drew European families, including the Rothschilds and the Nobels, who rushed to profit from the region’s hydrocarbons.

Still, the dangers to Azerbaijan’s thriving energy business from festering conflicts are all too evident. On Aug. 5, the BP pipeline was temporarily closed after an explosion on its Turkish portion, allegedly the work of Kurdish terrorists. That was followed by the closing of two oil-transit routes that cross Georgia because of its five-day war with Russia over the separatist region of South Ossetia.

Azerbaijan has been able to leverage some of the interest in its energy resources to try to end its own “frozen conflict” over Nagorno-Karabakh, which has cost it 20 percent of its territory. Medvedev arranged the Nov. 2 meeting in Moscow at which Aliyev and the Armenian president, Serzh Sargsyan, agreed to seek a resolution – signaling Russia’s willingness to play mediator in this dispute.

“We have to find a way to have a peaceful, stable region,” Ibrahim said.”

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 5th, 2008 at 4:38 am and is filed under Azerbaijan, Gazprom, Georgia, Russia, Turkey.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

Comments are closed.

Wildcats & Black Sheep is a personal interest blog dedicated to the identification and evaluation of maverick investment opportunities arising in frontier - and, what some may consider to be, “rogue” or “black sheep” - markets around the world.

Focusing primarily on The New Seven Sisters - the largely state owned petroleum companies from the emerging world that have become key players in the oil & gas industry as identified by Carola Hoyos, Chief Energy Correspondent for The Financial Times - but spanning other nascent opportunities around the globe that may hold potential in the years ahead, Wildcats & Black Sheep is a place for the adventurous to contemplate & evaluate the emerging markets of tomorrow.