Russia’s Energy Secret and The Chinese Threat

A very interesting article in Newsweek, which details that – despite its aggressive energy-related dealings – Russia can barely meet its own demand.  While reading this report, I can’t help but think of the Cold War years in which Russia (and other states for that matter) aggressively portrayed & projected its strength internationally, while the domestic situation became increasingly dire.  As the Newsweek report details:

“…The surprising Achilles’ heel of Gazprom is that it produces only about 550 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas—just enough to supply its own domestic market. It relies on cheap imports from Central Asia to meet the majority of its other commitments to customers in Europe, amounting to nearly 80bcm. And since only Gazprom’s foreign customers pay full market value, it’s the company’s exports which make up the bulk of Gazprom’s revenues—$21 billion for the second quarter of 2007 alone. Now those nations on which Gazprom’s profits rely—including Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan—are beginning to cut their own deals with big new customers like China. The deals are in turn becoming an existential threat to Gazprom, one of Russia’s most valuable strategic levers of power.

Russian control of a quarter of Europe’s gas supplies is a key plank of its foreign policy and renewed national pride; supply of cheap electricity and heat to Russian homes is a touchstone of the Russian government’s credibility. Central Asia is now undermining both those fundamentals—and could threaten Vladmir Putin’s petro-politics.

Gazprom hasn’t opened up a new gas field since 1991, and its existing fields are dwindling. A recent report by the Russian Industry and Energy Ministry warned that if the decline continued, Russia may be unable to service even its own domestic gas needs by 2010, and recommended doubling prices, a conservation move that has upset business and could also put a damper on economic growth.

…Relying on cheap imports to supply foreign customers is nothing new for Gazprom; for years the company’s been buying gas from the Central Asians for knockdown prices. Until earlier this year, Gazprom was paying just $65 per 1,000 cubic meters to the Turkmens—then selling the same gas to customers in Western Europe who pay up to $250 (possibly only because of Russia’s pipeline monopoly).

…No threat is more potent than that of China’s move into Turkmenistan. Last year China’s President Hu Jintao signed a deal with the late Turkmen leader Sapurmurat Niyazov to buy 30bcm of Turkmen gas each year for the next 30 years, and finance a giant new gas pipeline to China’s Xinjiang province. That’s in addition to a deal signed with Iran in March, which promises 14bcm a year of Turkmen gas to Tehran. At the same time, the Turkmens have also signed a deal with Russia for 50bcm a year until 2009. ”There’s no doubt that Turkmenistan has promised to sell more gas than it can feasibly pump,” says one top U.S. diplomat in the region not authorized to speak on the record. ”The question is, which customer will they choose?”

…It looks like China, rather than the United States, is best positioned to be the big winner in Central Asia’s search for new friends. …Kazakhstan… plans to nearly double oil production to 150 million tons a year by 2015. A large chunk of that will be exported to China, through new Beijing-funded routes, or to other markets through the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, bypassing Russia.”Pretty soon the Chinese are going to exchange their bicycles for cars, so their oil needs will boom. We’re happy to have such as a big, stable neighbor just on our border,” says Kamal Burkhanov, a Kazakh parliamentarian. “How long should Central Asian countries be locked in by Gazprom’s prices? The transit fees they pay us are kopecks….”

This entry was posted on Sunday, December 30th, 2007 at 4:28 pm and is filed under China, Gazprom, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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