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Tue 21 November 2017

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Central Asia as a whole has some of the second largest untapped energy reserves in the world second only to the reserves beneath the Persian Gulf. The three countries which share the majority of the region's energy and resources, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and neighbouring Azerbaijan, are landlocked. This makes them highly dependent on their immediate neighbours for access to the Western markets.

Pipelines in Central Asia: Current and Proposed (source:

Locked as it is between Russia in the north, China in the east, Pakistan and India to the south and Turkey and Iran to the west Central Asia is fast becoming a game board on which the great powers move to secure their interests. Control over Central Asian pipelines means control over the entire region and a secure supply of energy for years to come. The game is twofold; first control of production of the oil and gas, and second, control of the pipelines which will transfer the oil to the endpoint markets

Traditionally oil and gas from Central Asia have been channelled into the Russian network of pipelines. Russia not only provided a market for much of the energy during Soviet times but also ensured that her will was imposed, cutting off supplies to other countries who defaulted on energy payments, and controlling onward sales and exports to Europe. About 50 % of Russia foreign revenue derives from oil and gas sales. Russia of course would like this situation to continue and wants to expand existing pipeline routes and to develop new links with Central Asia. It also wants to impose restrictions and transit duties on pipeline flow through its territories, in a bit to influence investment patterns, so that the focus of gas/oil field development is shifted to its own Siberian reserves. Currently Central Asian oil is transported north from Kazakhstan through Dagestan and Chechnya to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossisk, or west to the Georgian port of Supsa. .

China and India, two of the most populous nations on earth, both rapidly developing have shown a keen interests in Central Asian resources to support their escalating energy demands. It is essential for these economies to have secure, easily accessible oil/gas supplies, and Central Asia potentially provides the perfect local answer. There has been much discussion over building a pipeline from Khazakistan directly to China thereby bypassing any Russian influence although the line has yet to materialise.

India and Pakistan have also shown an interest in lines, possibly to run through Afghanistan to Pakistan and possibly onwards to supply India's energy needs, though the current instability in Afghanistan has these plans on hold for the present. It is also doubtful whether India would countenance a pipeline running through Pakistan with the prevailing situation in Kashmir and the constant threat of nuclear conflict.


The USA leads the world in oil consumption of which more than 50% is imported with the demand for oil imports set to increase steadily in the foreseeable future. The US government recognises that dependence for oil imports endangers US national security. This has led to a oil policy aimed at diversification of oil supply to prevent dependence on any one region.

Americans, Europeans, and Russians are all anxious to buy more oil, especially from countries that do not belong to OPEC, and from sources outside the Persian Gulf. The United States is in an ongoing competition with Russia to secure its interests and thwart those of the Russians. The US particularly interested in building pipelines southwards, through Azerbaijan, or west through Turkey, thereby avoiding Russian territory and control. These projects also seek to contain Iran, which has an extensive network of pipelines and provides the shortest, cheapest and most natural exit routes from the region.

To this end there has been an enormous development of US aid and military presence in the region. At the geopolitical level US 'developmental aid' to Central Asia, encourages Central Asian countries to move away from the Russian sphere of influence. At the economic level, the development of the oil industry of these countries means investment opportunities for the American construction and oil companies. Politically and militarily US wants to be in a in a position to control and protect these new important energy resources and diversify its own sources supply. Areadily apparent practical manifestation of these policies is the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme

Partnership for Peace (PfP) is the basis for practical security cooperation between NATO and individual Partner countries (19+1). Activities include defence planning and budgeting, military exercises and civil emergency operations.
Partnership for Peace website

The PfP has seen increasing militarisation of Central Asia in the name of 'peace' with Central Asian countries taking part in joint military exercises with US troops stationed in the region. From NATO members point of view:

'the danger to security …is not primarily potential aggression to their collective (NATO) territory, but threats to their collective interests beyond their territory….To deal with such threats alliance members need to have a way to rapidly form military coalitions that can accomplish goals beyond NATO territory'
(Former US Secretary of State for defence).

The NATO PfP force is intensifying on a yearly basis, the implication being that NATO under US leadership will act as a policeman for the region and define the limits of Russian participation.

Increasing economic investment, must be protected by 'secure, stable, democratic' governments amicable foreign interests. This has resulted in a heightened animosity to Islamic movements that mobilise economically and politically marginalized societies to rise against 'anti-Islamic' and 'pro-western' values. The US is particularly keen to stamp out this brand of 'terrorism'. Former US voices against the oppressive regimes and appalling human rights abuses in the area have fallen conspicuously silent in recent years as these regimes toughen their stance against their internal Islamic opposition. It is this 'war against terrorism' that has finally turned Russia, the US and China in to bedfellows. Russia and China are eager to keep the 'Islamic threat' from spilling over the borders and in to their lands, igniting their substantial Muslim minorities. As continual repression pushes the general populace even further into the desperate grasp of radical Islam, regional governments wade further into the murky waters of militarisation and 'Partnerships for Peace' to combat the 'terrorist threat'. The US, Russia and China alternately compete and co-operate by turns to control the peoples and pipelines of Central Asia. The Great Game is back in play.

(Sources: The Geopolitics of Oil in Central Asia, By Constantine Arvanitopoulos, Assistant Professor of International Politics at the Panteion University and Head of Planning at Institute of International Relations (I.I.R.);; World Press Organisation;

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