ASHGABAT -- The Iranian regime has joined Russia in opposing the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline, a proposed undersea pipeline between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.
The main goal of the project is to transport natural gas from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to Turkey and the rest of Europe, bypassing both Russia and Iran, which is part of ongoing developments leading to the increased sovereignty and independence of Central Asian states.
Fearing competition in the gas market, the Russian and Iranian regimes have long opposed the supply of Turkmen gas to Azerbaijan and then to southern Europe via the TANAP (Trans Anatolian) and TAP (Trans-Adriatic) gas pipelines.
TANAP was completed in 2018, while TAP is nearing completion.
"Iran is opposed to its [the pipeline's] construction," said Behrouz Namdari, an official who represented the National Iranian Gas Co. at the first Caspian Economic Forum (CEF) on August 12 in Avaza, Turkmenistan.
His comments are more straightforward than but similar to those of Russian officials who hide behind the pretense of environmental concerns.
Moscow's position on the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project "remains unchanged", said Russian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Mikhail Bocharnikov, in a July 4 interview with the Azerbaijani newspaper Caspian Energy.
"First of all, we must comply with ... our obligations under international agreements on environmental protection and preservation," Bocharnikov said.
"The hypothetical and far-from-obvious benefits for certain economic players must not prevail over the long-term interests of the population of the Caspian littoral states and prospects for preservation of the water area's ecosystem," he added.
Common goal of Iranian, Russian regimes
Moscow and Tehran understand that a gas pipeline along the bottom of the Caspian Sea with a capacity of 30 billion cubic metres per year could damage their position on the international gas market, reduce foreign exchange earnings from gas exports and weaken their monopoly on the gas market.
"They [Russia and Iran] are among the top three leaders in gas reserves; in tandem, they do not want Turkmenistan, which ranks fourth in the world ... to compete with them on the market," said an anonymous official from the office of Yagshigeldy Kakayev, an adviser to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov on oil and gas issues.
"In Turkmen, I call them 'bakhyls', meaning envious people who are trying to bring harm in every possible way," the official said after Namdari's speech.
At the forum, Namdari invited neighbouring countries wishing to export gas to use Iranian infrastructure, including gas pipelines and terminals.
"This proposal made by Namdari is a blatant mockery of common sense," said the official.
"Why offer a roundabout route for Turkmen gas that's going west, when there is a direct route through the Caspian Sea and farther through the already existing gas transport infrastructure of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey?" he asked.
Tehran and Moscow have found different excuses to oppose the project over the past years, said a representative of Turkmengaz (Turkmenistan's state-owned gas firm), speaking under the pseudonym of Amanmyrat Bekiyev.
"At first they [Russia and Iran] were saying that the construction was prohibited because the sea had no legal demarcation [of each littoral state's waters and resources]," he said.
"Then, when the Caspian convention was signed [in August 2018], they started to say that, allegedly, the pipeline violates the obligations of the five Caspian states to protect the environment," he said, suggesting that the Russian and Iranian regimes could use sabotage to halt the project.
The rhetoric of the pipeline's foes intensifies each time after the government of Turkmenistan begins work on the project, he added.
More supporters than opponents
Many on the international stage support the pipeline despite resistance from Moscow and Tehran.
Speaking at the CEF meeting in August, European Union Special Representative for Central Asia Peter Burian supported the project and announced the resumption of relevant negotiations with Turkmenistan.
In addition to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, which could earn considerable revenue on the transit of Turkmen gas to Europe, the United States supports construction of the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline.
The US administration in March expressed its support in a congratulatory message to Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov during the Nawruz holiday, as well as in a May speech by US Ambassador to Turkmenistan Matthew Klimow during his confirmation by the US Senate.
Klimow vowed during his confirmation to do everything necessary to promote diversification of Turkmenistan's gas supplies through the Caspian Sea.
"We know everyone who is trying to help us build the gas pipeline through the Caspian Sea and who is impeding us from doing this in every way," said the Turkmen gas and oil official.
"We also know that this gas pipeline, as well as the TAPI gas pipeline project in South Asia, will be built despite opposition from envious countries," he said, referring to the under-construction Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline opposed by the Iranian regime. It has on numerous occasions backed Taliban militants in destroying the TAPI project in Afghanistan.
"These gas pipelines will play a significant role for the economy of Turkmenistan in the future," he added.