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Turkmenistan eyes Western markets with new $2.5 billion gas link

By AFP - Dec 27,2015 - Last updated at Dec 27,2015

Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov takes part in the opening ceremony of the East-West pipeline at the Belek compressor station, some 500 kilometres northwest of Ashgabat, last week (AFP photo)

BELEK, Turkmenistan — Turkmenistan hailed last week the completion of a $2.5 billion gas pipeline connecting its abundant eastern gas fields to the Caspian Sea while potentially expanding Europe's energy security options.

The approximately 800-kilometre long East- West pipeline could connect the isolated state possessing the world's fourth largest gas re-serves with markets in the West via an ambitious link that would traverse the Caspian.

"With the completion of the East-West pipe-line, cooperation with our European partners acquires a new quality," said Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov at the opening ceremony at the Belek compressor station, some 500 kilometres northwest of the capital, Ashgabat.

The East-West pipe-line may prove an important component of a bigger link planned by the European Union (EU), Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia that would funnel natural gas along the floor of the Caspian before connecting with pipelines threading into Europe.

The Trans-Caspian pipeline is expected to cost around $5 billion and could carry as much as 30 billion cubic metres of natural gas annually in the direction of the EU. The pipeline would provide Europe with an opportunity to lessen its dependence on Russia- sourced gas.

'Strength of companies' Berdymukhamedov said the East-West link had been built "by us on our own thanks to the strength of our national companies" despite previous foreign interest in building the vital link.

"This clearly demonstrates our economic and financial potential and the capacity of our country," Berdymukhamedov added. Turkmenistan's lack of infrastructure has left it dependent on pipelines connecting it to Russia and China for the bulk of its exports in the past.

Brussels' energy chief, Maros Sefcovic, said during a May visit to Ashgabat that the Trans- Caspian pipeline might come online by the end of 2019, although it is unclear who will build a link that faces opposition from littoral states Russia and Iran.

Other efforts to involve Turkmenistan in the EU's energy system including via the long-planned Nabucco pipe-line have come to nothing in the past. Turkmenistan, which sends up to 90 per cent of its natural gas east to China, has also begun building a $10 billion Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India link expected to help ease energy deficits in South Asia.

The country's once- booming energy relationship with former master Russia has virtually collapsed since energy giant Gazprom confirmed its intention to wind down imports of Central Asian gas, with Turkmenistan blasting the company as an "un-reliable partner" earlier this year. But Igor Sechin, who heads Russia's top oil company, Rosneft, and is known as a close ally of President Vladimir Pu-tin, attended the opening of the East-West pipeline.

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