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Passions over gas

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Representatives of Russia, Ukraine and the European Commission are due to gather for gas negotiations in Brussels on September 19th. Experts say the talks may play a crucial role in addressing the pressing issue of Russian gas supplies to Europeans. Maroš Šefčovič, who is responsible for energy issues in the European Union leadership, said on Twitter that progress in this direction will provide the market a powerful positive impetus ahead of the winter season. During the upcoming negotiations, Moscow and Kiev will try to secure a deal, through the mediation of the European Commission, on a new agreement on the transit of Russian gas to Europe through Ukraine (the current one expires on December 31, 2019).

At present, the two parties are at odds over how to approach the gas issue. Ukraine, with the support of the European Commission, proposes to conclude a long-term contract for the next 10 years, and if the existing agreement is extended for one year, the Kiev authorities expect to receive compensation payments from PJSC Gazprom in accordance with the decisions of the Stockholm Arbitration Court.

The fact that Ukraine will demand compensation from Gazprom if the Russian company insists on signing a contract on the previous terms was reported a few days ago by Executive Director of Naftogaz Ukraine Yury Vitrenko. “If they stick to their current position, which will lead to the absence of gas transit through Ukraine from January 1, 2020, we will force them to pay, compensate for our losses,” – he said, adding that in case of continued gas transit through the territory Ukraine, Naftogaz will not review tariffs and will not require Gazprom to pay compensation in the amount of 11-14 billion dollars.

At the same time, Kiev is fully aware of the fact that in 2021 the Stockholm arbitration will go into sessioin to consider the conflict between the companies involved on the gas transit contract, under which the amount of Naftogaz’s claims against Gazprom amounts to $ 11.58 billion.

Moscow, for its part, is ready to conclude a short-term contract or extend the existing one (without any additional compensation) for a period necessary to build and put into operation the Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Stream bypass pipelines.

Speaking at a meeting with President Putin on September 9th Gazprom Board Chairman Alexei Miller reiterated the importance of addressing the issue of Russian gas transit through Ukraine and the prospects for Kiev to purchase Russian gas. He reminded the participants that by the end of this year, the company expects to pump at least 11.4 billion cubic meters of gas into underground storage facilities in Europe, which is more than double the level of 2018. According to Miller, “one of the factors to account for the high volumes of gas injected into underground storage facilities is that the contract for gas transit through the territory of Ukraine expires on December 31st this year.”“Even though the transit agreement is extremely important, still more important is whether Ukraine will buy Russian gas under a direct contract,” – Alexei Miller said. According to him, “in the event of concluding a direct gas supply agreement with Gazprom, the price of gas for the end consumer in Ukraine may be 25 percent lower than the current level. But, undoubtedly, the main issue is the supply of gas for the Ukrainian market. This is a matter of bilateral negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. ”

“We are trying to reach a new transit agreement, despite the fact that at the moment, we are putting the finishing touches to the Nord Stream-2 pipeline,” – said Andrei Suzdaltsev, an independent post-Soviet space expert, in an interview with Economics Today. According to Suzdaltsev, whatever the case, Gazprom needs a transit agreement with Kiev in order to ensure the implementation of its gas supply agreements with the EU countries. It must also be taken into account that if Ukraine does not have transit gas, there will be no gas in the country, “since there will not be a reverse, which is the resale of Russian gas by Europeans,” – said Andrey Suzdaltsev.

Ahead of negotiations with Russia, Ukraine is trying to strengthen its positions, using the support of other states, first of all Poland and the United States. The three countries have signed a memorandum of cooperation in the gas sector, which, in the words of the Ukrainian edition Apostrof, “should become an additional factor in securing the energy independence of our country. The document stipulates that from 2021 Ukraine will receive 6 billion cubic meters of gas from Poland. ” It is assumed that US traders will supply liquefied natural gas to the Świnoujście LNG terminal, whose capacity is projected to increase from the current 5 billion cubic meters to 7.5 billion cubic meters per year by 2021. After regasification, part of this gas can be supplied to Ukraine. At present, Poland’s gas transportation capacities make it possible to supply Ukraine with only about 1.5 billion cubic meters of gas. In  2018, Polish gas supplies amounted to only 0.7 billion cubic meters, the Ukrainian edition says and adds: “At the same time, a significant part of gas which Ukraine buys in Europe, comes from Russian. Given that in 2020, when the current Ukrainian-Russian gas transportation contract to Europe terminates, the Russian Federation may completely block gas transit through our country, which will jeopardize gas imports to Ukraine from Europe, since a significant part of these supplies is carried out by reverse, including by the “virtual” one.

“It needs to be understood that a memorandum is just a declaration of intent, not a full-fledged contract, which stipulates all terms of delivery, including their volume and fuel price,” – Apostrof  points out citing Vladimir Omelchenko, Director of Energy Programs at Razumkov Center in Kiev: “We have a lot of memorandums which have been signed, but many of them are not being implemented. Everything will depend on the effectiveness of the new government, on the management of Naftogaz Ukraine – prospects for the project depend on how they work. ”

Project Director of the Ukrainian Sientific Development Center “Psyche” Gennady Ryabtsev is more skeptical. He says implementation of the memorandum is possible if three conditions are met. The first is the construction of an interconnector between Ukraine and Poland. Even though this project has been under discussion for several years, construction has not yet begun. The second condition is an increase in the capacity of the Polish terminal Swinoujscie. The third condition is the availability of the resource itself: “Gas goes where the best prices are, so it is unclear whether the required volumes will be available, and therefore, a long-term agreement must be signed on the guaranteed provision of certain quantities of gas”. According to Gennady Ryabtsev, if one of these conditions is not satisfied, the agreement will not be implemented in full. “Our country shouldn’t expect Poland to supply such volumes of fuel, at least in the coming years,”, even if the capacity of the LNG terminal increases to 7.5 billion cubic meters, ” –  says Gennady Ryabtsev .

Another important factor in the run-up to the upcoming three-party negotiations may be the recent ruling of the EU Supreme Court on the lawsuit of the Polish company PGNiG, which restricts Gazprom’s access to the OPAL pipeline, which is a branch of the Nord Stream gas pipeline. This pipeline connects Nord Stream with the gas transportation system of Western and Central Europe and carries gas to Germany up to the border with the Czech Republic in the volume of up to 36 billion cubic meters per year.

Initially, in accordance with the European anti-monopoly legislation, Gazprom was allowed use only 50% of this leg’s capacity. However, in October 2016, the European Commission agreed to remove the OPAL gas pipeline from the Third Energy Package for the period up to 2033 and allowed Gazprom to use the pipe by 90%. This decision has now been overruled by the EU Supreme Court. And this is hardly a coincidence. On September 10 the EU Supreme Court satisfied the Polish company PGNiG’s lawsuit against the European Commission and restricted Gazprom’s access to the capacities of the cross-border European gas pipeline. According to PGNiG Deputy Director General Maciej Wozniak, due to this unexpected ruling, Gazprom will not be able to completely stop gas transit through Ukraine, at least in the coming months. “We are looking into the legal and commercial consequences of this decision,”- Gazprom Export said in turn.

Gazprom’s access to OPAL’s facilities has been a subject of controversy since the construction of this pipeline went under way. This is one of two, along with NEL, branches of the Nord Stream gas pipeline, which was launched at the end of 2011. There are no other sources of gas for OPAL and NEL except for the Russian gas. The NEL gas branch does not come under the above restrictions, since it does not go beyond Germany.

The decision of the EU court on the OPAL gas pipeline will affect gas negotiations with Ukraine and the European Commission, – Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak confirmed in an interview on Rossiya 24 Channel. He said the current situation affects gas supplies to Europe as a whole: “In my opinion, this decision affects the supply of gas to European countries, the gas flows.”

Polish political analyst Mateusz Piskorski says that the decision of the EU Supreme Court on the lawsuit of a company from his country was not caused by economic considerations. “In fact, everything has long become clear, everything has been clear from the moment negotiations with the USA began on the delivery of liquefied natural gas, when a fairly large-scale project led by Poland was launched, so that countries of Central and Eastern Europe would gradually switch to American liquefied natural gas. So any attempts to block Gazprom’s access to European markets play into the hands of American partners of the Polish government. So, I think that’s the point. Plus, of course, the political point of view of Poland that it is necessary to support the interests of Ukraine as a transit country. Thus, there are two main reasons, and they have nothing to do with economic considerations. ”

“I don’t think the alternative for Europe is to buy Trump’s natural gas. We must rely on the resources of our own continent, which were discovered and developed, including through Franco-Russian cooperation,” – said Loic Le Flock-Prizhan, former president of Gaz de France, who advocates the idea of a large-scale international project on the construction of a modern gas pipeline through Ukraine in order to supply Russian gas to Europe. “We will focus on Russian gas fields that produce inexpensive gas. The world economy is shifting towards Russia, China and India, and if all the cheap Russian gas goes to other continents, I have no idea how Europe will survive. In other words, this pipeline is very important – we must have a chance to count on cheap gas and strong ties with Russia regardless of circumstances or personalities. We need to pursue this structural project,” – he emphasizes.  But this project is so far only an idea, nothing more.

Given the situation, it should be borne in mind that one of the most active players in the upcoming gas talks is the United States, though it is not among the negotiating parties. American LNG producers are set on disrupting an agreement between Moscow and Kiev, which will not only strengthen Europeans’ dependence on more expensive American gas, but will also aggravate tension between the EU and Russia, which is something Washington is interested in. All this yet again supports the fact that the United States and its allies are using political pressure on their counterparties in addressing economic issues. 

From our partner International Affairs

Peter Iskenderov, senior research assistant at RAS Slavic Studies Institute, candidate of historical sciences

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Nord Stream 2: To Gain or to Refrain? Why Germany Refuses to Bend under Sanctions Pressure

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pipeline nord stream

The chances of the sanctions war around Nord Stream 2 to rage on after the construction of the pipeline is finally over seem to be high. That said, we have to admit, with regret or with joy, that it will be completed, and for the following reasons:

Germany, like any other European country, has set itself the task of abandoning coal and nuclear energy within the next few decades. In reality, however, there is no alternative to coal and nuclear energy. Simultaneously forsaking gasoline and diesel cars, which is something Europe dreams about, will inevitably increase the EU’s demand for electricity. However, green energy is unlikely to satisfy Europe’s energy needs any time soon. Hopes for cheap thermonuclear energy are unlikely to come true until 2050 at best. Therefore, in the coming decades, natural gas, Russian and other, will obviously remain the most convenient and cheapest fuel. At the same time, regardless of where the pipelines run, Russian natural gas will account for a significant share of the European and world markets. This is not politics – just a simple economic reality.

Despite the attributed environmental benefits of Nord Stream 2 and the Russian natural gas, the positive impact of replacing coal with natural gas remains largely unclear as it depends on the volume of methane leaking from the processes of gas extraction and transportation. Nonetheless, Nord Stream 2 presents itself as an attractive alternative for the EU as it would help decrease gas prices because Russia will be able to supply the EU with higher amounts of gas, thus, decreasing demand for expensive imported liquified natural gas (LNG).

Nord Stream 2, although a privately-financed commercial project, has political implications. Politics and economics are too closely intertwined, and in the short term at that. The abandonment of Nord Stream 2 will hardly weaken Russia and force the Kremlin to introduce democratic reforms. This will only result in Europe losing a good opportunity to effectively ensure its energy independence, as well as that of its Baltic and Eastern European allies, many of whom, unable to fully integrate themselves into European energy systems, continue to buy electricity from Russia.

At the same time, Nord Stream 2 will help make Germany a guarantor of the EU’s energy security. More and more people now feel that the sanctions against the Russian-German project are essentially meant to undermine Germany’s growing influence. However, even this abnormally cold winter has shown that political problems and competition for influence in the EU are taking a back seat to energy security issues. The disruption in LNG supplies from the United States has only underscored Europe’s need for the Nord Stream. Besides, when completed and controlled by Germany, Nord Stream 2 could be used as a means of pressure against Russia and Russian supplies which is exactly what Brussels and Washington want.

Yet, the United States continues to oppose the Nord Stream 2 project and, thus, trans-Atlantic tensions between Germany and the United States are on the rise. Like the Obama and Trump Administrations which opposed Nord Stream 2 and introduced tangible steps to halt its progress, the Biden Administration is too faced with a lot of pressure by American lobbyists and members of the Congress in order to push back and halt Nord Stream 2 progress and efforts. However, until this very day, US President Biden and his administration did not sanction the project, which could be understood in lights of Biden’s struggling efforts to repair relations with Germany after the Trump Administration’s accusations towards and troop withdrawals from Germany. Thus, although the current administration under Biden still opposes Nord Stream 2, it is reluctant to impose any sanctions because its priorities lie with repairing US-German ties in the Post-Trump era.

The United States is not the only opposing International player to Nord Stream 2, but even many Eastern European countries, including Slovakia, Ukraine and Poland are against the pipeline project in fear of geo-economic insecurity. For instance, it is believed that Nord Stream 2 would cost Ukraine approximately $2 to $3 billion in losses as the transit volumes shift from Ukraine to Nord Stream 2. Another argument put forth by European opposition to Nord Stream 2 is that it would undermine the EU’s energy solidarity or even a potential “Energy Union”; however, Germany and supporters of Nord Stream 2 often highlight that the imported Russian gas would not only benefit Germany, but rather all of Europe. The pipeline is expected upon completion to be able to transport 55 billion cubic meters of Russian Natural Gas to Germany and other clients in Europe!

Despite oppositions, threats of sanctioning and the earlier construction halt in December 2019, it seems that the Gazprom-Pipeline Nord Stream 2 will be completed and will go online soon as the Biden Administration continues to refrain from imposing sanctions.

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How Azerbaijan changed the energy map of the Caspian Sea

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image source: azertag.az

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, crude oil and natural gas have been playing a key role in the geopolitics of the Caspian region. Hydrocarbon revenues became an important source of economic growth for the Caspian Basin countries such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. Shortly after gaining independence in the early 1990s, the Caspian states implemented energy policies that protect their national interests. According to the BP 2020Statistical Review of World Energy total proved energy reserves of the Caspian states are: Kazakhstan has30.00 billion barrels of oil and 2.7 trillion cubic meters of gas, Azerbaijan 7.00billion barrels of oil and 2.8 trillion cubic meters of gas, and Turkmenistan 0.6billion barrels of oil and 19.5 trillion cubic meters of gas.

Such rich hydrocodone reserves allowed the Caspian states to contribute significantly to the global energy markets. Today, the Caspian states are supplying oil and natural gas to various energy markets, and they are interested in increasing export volume and diversification of export routes. In comparison with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, which supply energy sources mainly to China and Russia, Azerbaijan established a backbone to export energy sources to Europe and Transatlantic space. As the Caspian Sea is landlocked, and its hydrocarbon resources located at a great distance from the world’s major energy consumers, building up energy infrastructure was very important to export oil and gas.

To this end, Azerbaijan created the milestone for delivery of the first Caspian oil and natural gas by implementing mega energy projects such as Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline and Southern Gas Corridor (SGC).Now, one can say that both energy projects resulted from successful energy policy implemented by Azerbaijan. Despite the COVID-19 recession, the supply of the Azerbaijani oil to the world energy markets continued. In general, the BTC pipeline carries mainly Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli (ACG) crude oil and Shah Deniz condensate from Azerbaijan. Also, other volumes of crude oil and condensate continue to be transported via BTC, including volumes from Turkmenistan, Russia and Kazakhstan. As it is clear, the BTC pipeline linked directly the Caspian oil resources to the Western energy markets. The BTC pipeline exported over 27.8 million tons of crude oil loaded on 278 tankers at Ceyhan terminal in 2020. The European and the Asian countries became the major buyers of the Azerbaijani oil, and Italy (26.2%) and China (14%) became two major oil importers from Azerbaijan.

The successful completion of the SGC also strengthened Azerbaijani position in the Caspian region. The first Caspian natural gas to the European energy markets has been already supplied via Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) in December 2020, which is the European segment of the SGC. According to TAP AG consortium,a total of one billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas from Azerbaijan has now entered Europe via the Greek interconnection point of Kipoi, where TAP connects to the Trans Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP). The TAP project contributes significantly to diversification of supply sources and routes in Europe.

Another historical event that affected the Caspian region was the rapprochement between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. The MoU on joint exploration of “Dostluk/Friendship” (previously called Kapaz in Azerbaijani and Sardar in Turkmen) offshore field between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan was an important event that will cause positive changes in the energy map of the Caspian Sea.

The Assembly of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan Parliament have already approved the agreed Memorandumon joint exploration, development, and deployment of hydrocarbon resources at the “Dostluq” field. It should be noted that for the first time two Caspian states agreed to cooperate in the energy sector, which opens a window for the future Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP) from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan. Such cooperation and the future transit of Turkmen oil and gas via the existing energy infrastructure of Azerbaijan will be a milestone for trans-regional cooperation.

The supply of the Caspian and Central Asian natural gas to European energy markets was always attractive. Therefore, the TCP is a strategic energy project for the US and EU. After the signing of the Caspian Convention, the EU officials resumed talks with Turkmenistan regarding the TCP. The May 2019 visit of the Turkmen delegation headed by the Advisor of the President of Turkmenistan on oil and gas issues was aimed at holding technical consultations between Turkmenistan and the EU. Turkmen delegation met with the representatives of the General Directorate on Energy of the European Commission and with the representatives of “British Petroleum,” “Shell” and “Total” companies. TCP is a project which supports diversification of gas sources and routes for the EU, and the gas pipeline to the EU from Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan via Georgia and Turkey, known as the combination of “Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline” (TCP), “South-Caucasus Pipeline Future Expansion” (SCPFX) became the “Project of Common Interest” for the EU.

Conclusively, Azerbaijan is a key energy player in the region. Mega energy projects of the country play an important role to deliver Caspian oil and gas to global energy markets. However, the Second Karabakh War has revealed the importance of peace and security in the region. The BTC pipeline and the Southern Gas Corridor linking directly the Caspian energy to Western energy markets were under Armenian constant threat. As noted by Hikmat Hajiyev, the Foreign Policy Advisor to the President, “Armenia fired cluster rocket to BTC pipeline in Yevlak region”. Fortunately, during the Second Karabakh War, Azerbaijan protected its strategic infrastructure, and there was no energy disruption. But attacks on critical energy infrastructure revealed that instability in the region would cause damages to the interests of many states.

In the end, Azerbaijan changed the energy map of the Caspian Sea by completing mega energy projects, as well as creating the milestone for energy cooperation in the Caspian region. After Azerbaijan’s victory in the Second Karabakh War, the country supports full regional economic integration by opening all transport and communication links. Now, the importance of the Caspian region became much more important, and Azerbaijan supports the idea of the exportation of natural gas from Turkmenistan and the Mediterranean via SGC. Such cooperation will further increase the geostrategic importance of the SGC, as well as Azerbaijan’s role as a transit country.

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The Silk Road of Gas: Energy Business from Central Asia to Europe

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Central Asia possesses a significant role within the global geopolitical balance since it comprises numerous trade channels that link many businesses with millions of target customers from China to Portugal and vice-versa. Withal, by having abundant hydrocarbon potentials, the region offers tremendous opportunities to the global and local players.

Throughout the recent period, the preponderance of the energy-based plans and policies triggered the emergence of mega projects in the region, such as the Southern Gas Corridor, Central Asia–China gas pipeline, TAPI, and a possible Trans-Caspian pipeline in the upcoming years. Albeit these intense investment activities are foreshadowing new regional perspectives for economic development, it also generates additional alternatives and realities for the European policymakers.

The new business in the traditional routes

Anciently, the region was home to the legendary Silk Road, which was shaping the vivid economic landscape of the planet. Today, the region’s erstwhile role in trade seems to be revitalized to some extent by the projects such as the Road and Belt Initiative. In contradistinction to the past, energy forms the backbone of modern trade in Central Asia despite some cardinal difficulties of marketing and transportation.

In the last decade, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan had some attempts to increase their presence in the sector via their involvement in Central Asia–China gas pipeline. Notwithstanding, none of them was able to establish a comprehensive framework of cooperation with the EU as Azerbaijan. Through its unique Southern Gas Corridor project, which enables the transfer of the natural gas from the Shah Deniz field of the Caspian Sea to South Europe, Azerbaijan had radically transformed the pipeline mappings at the Caspian region. Concomitantly this channel provides a tremendous chance to the other landlocked Central Asian countries to be able to meet the rising demand in the European market.

Europe’s apprehension

From the European Union perspective, energy can be categorized as a strategic sector since the European economy increasingly relies on international suppliers. Currently, 54% of the energy consumption within the EU is imported mainly from Russia. More specifically, in 2019, Russian stake in the EU’s natural gas import was 44%, and the dependency of EU countries on Russian gas in 2013 as follows: Estonia 100%, Finland 100%, Latvia 100%, Lithuania 100%, Slovakia 100%, Bulgaria 97%, Hungary 83%, Slovenia 72%, Greece 66%, Czech Republic 63%, Austria 62%, Poland 57%, and Germany 46%. These substantial factors are forming the backdrop of the EU’s diversification policy in the concerning field through the establishment of intense diplomatic and economic ties to ensure the sustainability of energy security.

During the anticipated turbulent periods, especially considering the latest exacerbation between Russia and the Western bloc over the Ukraine dispute, the European economy might inevitably face some severe hurdles. Since there is a possibility that the process might be accompanied by the risk of the blockage of the Russian gas by the transit countries.

The viable solution

Geopolitical escalations undoubtedly hasten the energy diversification process within the European Union. Therefore, the essence of the energy policy of the EU can be categorized as a combination of liberal and realist approaches. Although the union intends to achieve its economic goals via the market mechanisms, it also adopts a realist standpoint in International Relations, specifically in the energy context.

As stated by the British Petroleum data published in 2019, proved gas reserves of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan totaled26,2 trillion cubic meters or 13,1% of the world’s known reserve. Undoubtedly, such an enormous potential would significantly contribute to the energy security of the EU.

Given the current situation in the European energy market and the global political climate, the EU cannot ignore its energy security concept, which is the fundamental aim of energy policy. In this sense, Southern Gas Corridor appears like the most convenient alternative by considering the future possibility of the construction of the Trans-Caspian pipeline that would dramatically facilitate the direct transfer of the Central Asian gas to South Europe.

As long as the EU is dependent on the imports of fossil fuels, the necessity of the balance in the energy sector will remain topical. Hence the formulation of a rational approach towards cooperation with potential suppliers, particularly key countries such as Azerbaijan, is essential. Otherwise, the energy notion will remain a risky and problematic political and economic instrument.

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