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Energy Diplomacy

Pipeline Diplomacy as a Key Element of Energy Security

If you talk about energy, it’s inevitable not to talk about pipeline which constitutes heart of energy security. Significance of pipeline system, anyone can notice in the foreign energy policy of energy-rich countries, such as Russia, which still is an “energy emperor” in the region.

Pipeline network is the vein of the country and main element of the energy security. Some type of energy resources need to be transported via pipeline such as petrol and natural gas.

Notwithstanding Soviet wall was collapsed, its pipeline still had remained. Soviet pipeline network was the de-facto hegemony of Russian Federation. In the geopolitical context, most of the countries (both importer and exporter, including transit states) attach great importance to security of the pipeline system. But to have more neighbors, territory, and long external pipeline system is not always pleasant. One has to deal with the security measures of pipelines which cross through the territories of neighbor countries.

The best pipeline diplomacy is being carried out by Russian Federation. As a predecessor of former Soviet Union, Russian Federation is also owner of Soviet pipeline system, consequently claims that only Russia is able to control this system. Today Russia inherited from the USSR 46.000 km of these crude oil pipelines, 15.000 km of petroleum product pipelines, and 152.000 km of natural gas pipelines, almost all of which are still owned and controlled by the state. This system include itself oil and gas pipeline which lay down to/from Central Asia, Caucasus, and Central Europe. Last century, most of the Central Asian countries, in spite of to built new pipeline from their countries to the east, west or south, satisfied with the “Russian-led restoring measures” of their current pipelines. However, after 2000 years main energy countries such as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan opened for themselves new routes (pipelines) to export their hydrocarbon resources (to China, Iran).

The main problem in front of security of pipeline system is the instabilities in the transit countries, as well as within the country. For example, TAPI project cannot be realized because of unstable Afghanistan and Taliban factor or Chechen threat to Russian pipelines lies from Azerbaijan. As well as, BTC pipeline still under the threat of Kurdish terrorist group – PKK. But transit problem is not limited with unstable region factor, as well as with transit fee and political orientation. The most notable example for “pipeline diplomacy” occurred in 2006. In this context, Ukraine is the brilliant example as well. In 2006 and 2009 Gas Crisis because of shut down of gas transportation through Ukraine to Europe Russia spoiled its political image, Ukraine proved its being unreliable transit country and Europe get experience of how tackle with such kind of matters. Consequently, EU determined new diversification policy for reliable energy provision of its Member States.

One cannot blame only Russia. Of course, all those “conflicts” emanate from the “political behaviors” of the Western countries and neighbors of Russia. “Political Behaviors” include itself “enlargement intentions of NATO and EU, consequently, membership desire of Ukraine and Georgia, EU-led projects toward South Caucasus and Caspian basin, pro-western colored revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, military penetration of U.S to Central Asia etc. Such kind of behavior resulted with 2006/2009 Gas Crisis and 2008 August war between Russia and Georgia.

Other noteworthy issue is pipeline rivalry between energy exporter countries. For example, Russian deems some regional gas pipelines such as BTC (Baku-Tiflis Ceyhan), BTE (Baku-Tiflis-Erzurum), Nabucco West (new European concept or shortened NABUCCO), TANAP (Trans-Anatolia Gas Pipeline) and TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) as an alternative to his pipeline system. Some of this projects bypassed Russia, while others remain as a main rival to Russian-led projects such as North Stream, South Stream and Blue Stream, including Russian-supported project IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India). In this context, Russia promised to some European countries to sell natural gas via South Stream at low-market prices, it’s unclear from which sources Russia will provide natural gas to pump to South Stream. Likely, Turkmen gas will be main gas contributor for South Stream gas pipeline. In regard to TAPI, this project still remains uncertain as a “Nabucco Disease” because of Russian opposition to the implementation process, as Russia supports realization of IPI, but U.S. strongly opposes IPI project, because U.S. officials believes that, Iran will be able to develop its nuclear program and military sector with revenues obtained from this project.

Analyzing pipeline system, one must not forget construction of pipeline network, which should be entitled as “birth of pipeline”. Construction issues usually carried out by private companies, however they can also face with different challenges such like geographical, ethnic, ecological, financial, and political ones. But, challenges cannot be summarized only with above mentioned factors. To be obvious, some companies do not have enough experience on international pipeline projects. To give an example, companies involved in the construction of NABUCCO pipeline were not quite experienced as required. Therefore, construction of pipeline remains unclear and partner companies give different excuses (financial problems) to leave the project.

Geography is also in the list of obstacle for pipeline construction. Some countries cannot develop their pipeline network in a broaden way because of their mountainous geography (Iran, China). Those pipelines should jeopardize (penetration, explosion) nature of relevant mountains. Particularly, if you are landlocked country, you need to keep your relationship on high level with neighbor countries in order to have transportation opportunity. Other geography-related point is the construction of pipelines under the sea which could cause environmental damage in case of any leakage or explosion. Therefore, most of the countries oppose construction of pipelines under sea (for ex. Trans-Caspian Pipeline under the Caspian Sea), while themselves build their own pipelines under sea basin (North Stream under the Baltic Sea and South Stream under the Black Sea).

Furthermore, some countries (notably transit countries) consider that, tight pipeline network should ensure their security in a long-run. However, one must not forget that military intervention or terrorist attack does not recognize any iron stuff.

In a nutshell, New Cold War is “Pipeline and Energy War”.


İlqar Qurbanov

Expert of Strategic Outlook Research Organization on Russia, South Caucasus and Energy Studies; 


You can find the original article at:  http://www.atlantic-community.org/index/articles/view/The_Politics_of_Pipeline_Diplomacy_and_Energy_Security




2 thoughts on “Pipeline Diplomacy as a Key Element of Energy Security

  1. You mean the greatest pipeline in USSR and RF history – Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline vvhich carries oil (4000 kim) from Russia to Ukraine-Poland-Belorussia-Baltic region-Hungary-Slovakia-Czech Republic-Slovenia-Germany.

    İn my vievv it still the main goal of USSR energy policy

    Posted by Fuad | 13/06/2012, 23:45
  2. can you please be clear in your explanation? 🙂

    Posted by Ilqar Qurbanov | 13/06/2012, 23:57

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