According to one Carnegie article (seemingly penned by a Uzbek political analyst/scientist):

After Ashgabat destroyed its relationship with Russia’s Gazprom in 2008, only China remained as the major client for Turkmen gas—but a significant portion of these revenues are used to repay Chinese loans.

I'm not sure what that's referring to though. A bit more searching finds that there was a pipeline explosion in 2009, but that's perhaps something that happened later? According to Wikipedia (which does not mention the 2009 explosion, nor the tensions that RFERL says resulted from that) there were some meetings between Medvedev and Berdymukhammedov in 2008, but these seem to have been cordial and resulted in some new agreements. So, what's the 2008 "destruction" (of the relationship) that the Carnegie article talks about?


2 Answers 2


I've read the stories about the EW pipeline posited as the main reason in another answer, but that to me seems ancillary to the main dispute, which was about gas pricing.

Essentially, Russia didn't need/want the EW pipeline in 2008 anymore because it had decided to substantially reduce gas imports from Turkmenistan. The latter came about due to a combination of reduced demand due to the global recession and Turkmen insistence on the (recently raised) price. RFERL reported (in another story):

In 2007, with world gas prices on the rise, Russia had promised to pay "European prices" to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan for their gas.

In 2008, Turkmenistan sold gas to two countries: Russia, via Soviet-era pipelines; and Iran, via a pipeline completed in 1997. That year, Turkmenistan sold some 40 billion cubic meters (bcm) to Russia -- and there were negotiations to boost that by another 5-8 bcm -- and 5-6 bcm to Iran.

[...] Additionally, construction was well under way on new gas pipelines leading from Turkmenistan to China and Turkmenistan to Iran, respectively.

Gas prices dropped during 2008. The Russian daily Vremya Novostei reported in April 2009 that Gazprom had lost more than $1 billion purchasing Central Asian gas in the first quarter. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan agreed to lower their prices; Turkmenistan did not. And when the explosion hit the gas pipeline on April 9, 2009, Turkmenistan's government complained loudly that it was Russia's fault.

The result was a halt in Turkmen gas exports to Russia. When, in 2011, the two sides finally agreed on a resumption of supplies, and the pipeline was repaired, Russia said it would take no more than 11 bcm per year.

So yeah, the relationship (and the pipeline) was repaired, but at a quarter of the old volume.

Jamestown Foundation wrote (in late 2009) in slightly more detail about the timing of the dispute:

Less than two years ago, in March 2008, Russia agreed to raise the gas price for Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan up to European levels from 2009. As a result, Gazprom had to buy Turkmenistan’s gas well above the domestic cost. On June 1, Gazprom deputy CEO Valery Golubev urged Turkmenistan to either cut its export volumes to Russia, or scale down gas prices. He argued that Gazprom no longer needed Turkmenistan’s gas at European prices as European and Ukrainian gas consumption plunged (Interfax, June 2). Golubev also claimed that Ashgabat had no alternatives but to sell its gas to Gazprom. However, the Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline project came as an indication that Ashgabat managed to develop alternative gas export routes. [...]

During the first quarter of 2009, the sharp drop in energy prices cost Gazprom over $1 billion on gas purchased from Central Asia and resold at a loss in Europe. While Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan agreed to lower their prices, Turkmenistan refused. The saving grace arrived in early April, when a mysterious explosion close to the Turkmen-Uzbek border shut down the CAC-4 pipeline, halting nearly all exports of Turkmen gas.

As for the EW pipeline, essentially Ashgabat decided to switch it from Russia's Caspian pipelines to the [then] hoped-for Nabucco, but this was essentially because they were hoping to sell directly to Europe, at the higher prices. Interestingly, perhaps, they continued to build that EW pipeline, even when no interconnect to Europe or Russia was on the horizon anymore:

Russia was well ahead of this competition primarily because it had already signed an agreement with Turkmenistan in April 2003, in which the former would import 2 trillion cubic meters (Tcm) from the latter over the following 25 years. The gas trade between these two states was expected to rise significantly, from 5–7 billion cubic meters (Bcm) in 2003–2006 to 70–80 Bcm by 2009 [...]. Therefore, Russia needed to expand the capacity of the existing Central Asia–Center (CAC) pipeline and build a new pipeline. This new pipeline was the Caspian Coastal pipeline, which would run in parallel with the western branch of the CAC (CAC-3) from Turkmenistan’s western coast toward its final destination of Russia after crossing Kazakhstan. In May 2007, the presidents of these three countries signed a framework agreement to build the Caspian Coastal pipeline [...]. Against this backdrop, Russia saw the need to transport gas produced in the eastern part of Turkmenistan to the western part in order to feed into this proposed pipeline. Thus the EW pipeline project was born. Obviously, Russia planned to connect this pipeline to the Caspian Coastal pipeline. However, the 2008 global financial crisis dramatically changed the situation. Gas demand greatly decreased and Russia developed a gas surplus, which removed its need to import gas from Turkmenistan and damaged the Russian plan.

Turkmenistan’s intent became clear at a news conference held during the tenth summit of Turkic-speaking countries in September 2010. There, Berdymukhamedov explicitly stated that the EW pipeline was closely related to the Nabucco gas pipeline [...]. Turkmenistan’s Foreign Ministry explained why the country needed to export its gas to Europe while heavily criticizing Russia’s then–deputy premier Igor Sechin’s comment that “Nabucco has no future” (RIA Novosti 2010). [...] Turkmenistan continued to build the EW pipeline despite the fact that no concrete progress was made in connecting it to any export route heading toward Europe. [...] Ashgabat completed building the remaining part of the pipeline only six months behind the original schedule.

This is a bit beyond my Q, but there was a 2nd pricing dispute in 2016, which again resulted in a complete halt of Turkmenistan-Russia gas shipments, and then

Russia's state-owned energy giant Gazprom resumed the purchases of Turkmen gas in 2019 when it signed a five-year contract envisaging annual deliveries of 5.5 billion cubic meters.

This volume was again down compared even to the to 2011-agred one. While Turkmenistan nowadays seems to bet on doubling exports to China (to 70 bcm by 2030). So, yeah, "destroyed" may be an overstatement when it comes to Turkmenistan-Russia gas exports, but they seemed to be trending down since 2008. After every pricing dispute [and a temporary complete halt], the contracted quantity with Gazprom appears to have gone down. OTOH, the actual export volume to Russia was up to 10 bcm by 2021, over the [2019] contracted minimum. FWTW, I found this graph with exports by destination, but it is a bit misleading as to the present state of affairs, because it stops in 2018. OTOH, the piece quoted in my Q was written in 2018 too.

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N.B. the [recent] increase was announced in Dec 2021 over 2020 volumes:

Ambassador Alexander Blokhin said Russia this year [2021] stands to import about 10 billion cubic meters (353 billion cubic feet) of gas from Turkmenistan, nearly twice the amount imported in 2020.

According to TASS, quoting the same ambassador, the volume was back to 5 bcm in 2022 though (i.e. 2019 level).

As far as "hope for the best" pipeline building goes, apparently Turkmenistan has also began construction of a pipeline towards India, even though this has to cross (the [now] Taliban-controlled) Afghanistan. The Taliban promised at one point (in 2021) they'll let the pipeline be built, but I've not seem more recent news.

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    Re: "Interestingly, perhaps, they continued to build that EW pipeline" - it was also designed to simplify logistics of internal gas transportation. It passes near main population centers of Turkmenistan and can be used to supply them, while older Soviet-built pipelines go farther north, through sparsely-populated Karakum Desert. Apr 26 at 12:11
  • @DanilaSmirnov: yeah, but the paper says it was being severely underutilized, as far as capacity goes.
    – Fizz
    Apr 26 at 12:23

Somewhere in late 2008-early 2009 Turkmens decided to repurpose their planned East-West pipeline. Initially it was supposed to supply the new pipe of the Gazprom-controlled CAC pipeline system, but in March 2009 Turkmenistan announced that instead of contracting Gazprom for the construction, an international tender will be held for the contract. Moreover:

A source in Ashgabat told the Vremya newspaper on March 30 that "the Turkmen leader did not want to give the Kremlin assurances that the infrastructure will be used only to increase exports to Russia through the planned [Prikaspiiski] gas pipeline. And Moscow did not want to sign [away] billions in investment, given the high risk of shifting some or even the entire volume of gas in the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline [outside of] Russia."

These assurances were quite important for Russia, as this development happened just as the agreement for the Nabucco pipeline project was near to being finalized. As previously Turkmen gas transited through Russia and Iran, they protested against any new trans-Caspian pipelines; Gazprom, in turn tried to put pressure on Türkmengaz by reducing intake from Turkmen pipeline system. On the next day, the pipeline explosion you found happened.

In the next years, even after the damaged pipeline was restored (that took almost an entire year, by the way), the relationship between Russian and Turkmen national gas corpos remained tense. Until 2015, the main apple of discord was the project of trans-Caspian pipeline - which (for many reasons, of which Russian interference wasn't probably even the main one) remained unbuilt; then in 2015 Gazprom filed a lawsuit over Turkmen gas costs in Stockholm Arbitration Court. In November 2018, when that Carnegie article was written, that lawsuit remained unsettled.

That said, it's probably on overstatement to say the relationship was "destroyed" - in two months after the article was published, Gazprom and Türkmengaz finally settled the lawsuit, and by July 2019 signed a new long-term contract.

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