Russia is trying to take control of gas exports to China

Gas production in Turkmenistan

In some cases, Turkmenistan was no longer able to bring gas to Uzbekistan because the sub-zero temperatures made production impossible.

(Photo: picture alliance/dpa)

Berlin Parts of Central Asia are currently experiencing one of the coldest winters in decades, with temperatures sometimes falling below minus 30 degrees Celsius. Uzbekistan in particular was hit hard by the freezing temperatures last week because the neighboring country of Turkmenistan had to completely stop gas exports at times.

When temperatures are so low, so-called gas hydrates form at gas production sites. Put simply, the natural gas freezes and solidifies, making production and transport impossible. According to reports from local media, this was the case in Turkmenistan, so that gas supplies to Uzbekistan had to be completely interrupted at times. As several media reports, gas has been flowing through the pipelines that connect the two countries again since the weekend.

But help could have come from Russia before that. State-controlled gas company Gazprom could have used the CAC pipeline, which normally carries natural gas from Turkmenistan to Russia via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. From there, Gazprom resells the raw material. In “reverse flow”, i.e. the reverse pumping direction, gas could now have flowed from Russia to the ex-Soviet republics.

But Russia did not act, out of simple calculation: As early as November 2022, a Russian draft contract provided for Uzbekistan to cede its pipeline network to Gazprom in return. This would have enabled Russia to control Turkmenistan’s massive exports to China – because Turkmen gas passes through Uzbekistan on its way through China. In this way, Uzbekistan might have avoided the shortage with Russian gas, even if nobody could have expected the severe onset of winter.

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Moscow’s behavior is a consequence of the massive Western sanctions against Russia. Because since Gazprom has hardly exported to Europe, the profit of the state-owned company, which is enormously important for the state budget, has plummeted.

Gazprom is becoming more and more dependent on China

Moscow has therefore been trying for several months to push Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan into a trilateral gas union. This is mainly because Gazprom is becoming more and more dependent on China due to the Ukraine war and the sanctions.

Vladimir Putin and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev

Russia is attempting to take control of natural gas export routes to China.

(Photo: AP)

The second condition set by the Russian side, according to diplomatic sources, was the renunciation of gas export rights to China. That is, Gazprom offered to become a party to the agreement instead of Uzbek UzGazTrade. Gazprom declined to comment.

It is considered certain that China pays significantly less for the imported gas than the former European customers. Gazprom does not comment on price details. But because the company is becoming more and more dependent on exports to the East, it is becoming more vulnerable to blackmail. Control over parts of the lines to China would mean additional bargaining power.

The fact that Russia is putting pressure on nearby neighbors to control the gas supply of entire continents is not new: even before the start of the Ukraine war, Gazprom made repeated attempts to take control of the Ukrainian pipelines for transport to Europe – without success. Instead, the group built the now largely destroyed Nord Stream pipelines through the Baltic Sea.

Moscow met with rejection in Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan, which should have transferred the network to the national gas company Kazakgaz, also refused. Now the Uzbeks must hope that the temperatures will not interrupt gas exports from Turkmenistan again.

More: Russia’s economy is threatened with collapse

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