Turkmenistan accused Moscow on Friday of violating its gas agreement with the Central Asian state, sharpening its rhetoric in a row that has halted supplies to Russia.
Flows from Central Asia’s top gas producer to Russia stopped on Thursday following a pipeline explosion which Turkmenistan said happened because Russia cut gas imports without warning. A sharp drop in gas pressure led to the rupture, it said.
“This accident happened due to a unilateral and egregious violation by Russian company Gazprom Export of agreements and rules of natural gas purchases,” Turkmenistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued early on Friday.
Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom declined to comment on the Turkmen accusations. Russia says the accident will not affect customers in Europe.
As diplomacy intensified over Turkmen gas, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov flew to the Caspian nation on Friday to attend a scheduled ministerial conference. Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, in his opening remarks at the start of the conference, made no direct mention of the matter, instead focusing on broad energy security issues.
“It is principally important to ensure the reliability, stability and security of (energy supplies),” he said as Lavrov and other foreign ministers from ex-Soviet states listened.
He said Turkmenistan, a desert nation bordering Afghanistan and Iran, will hold an international conference to discuss energy security this month and invited regional players to take part.
“Turkmenistan proposes to hold an open international dialogue on this issue to work out a coordinated approach in the energy sector,” he added. Berdymukhamedov and Lavrov shook hands afterwards and looked cordial but made no other remarks.
Gas trade is a sensitive issue in Russia’s relations with other former Soviet republics, with supply rows often escalating into full-blown diplomatic stand-offs. A Russia-Ukraine gas crisis this winter cut supplies to Europe, raising concerns about the reliability of Russian supplies.
The pipeline blast occurred on Turkmenistan’s border with Uzbekistan, but the extent of the damage was unclear. There was no word on casualties. It was the second accident in the former Soviet Union this month and analysts said ageing infrastructure may be to blame. Turkmenistan denied this.
“Turkmenistan has modernized a significant part of its energy sector since independence,” the Foreign Ministry said. A senior Gazprom official, Valery Golubev, was due for talks in Turkmenistan on Friday.
Analysts said Gazprom would benefit from a halt of Turkmen gas flows at a time when it is suffering from a drop in gas demand in Europe. Gazprom normally cannot meet both its export obligations and peak demand at home without the Turkmen gas but the deepening financial crisis has changed the picture.
On Thursday, Gazprom said its output would fall 12% this year and stay at low levels for a few more years, while oil firms, such as LUKoil, have said Gazprom had asked them to trim production of gas in Russia. (Reuters)