When in 1997 journalist Vitaly Portnikov published his article under the heading “CIS - Commonwealth of Independent Gas Pipelines” in “Obshchaya Gazeta”, the problem of transportation of raw materials and related political differences then concerned mainly the European and Caucasian parts of the former Soviet Union. And the main object of discontent of the Kremlin was the new education of GUUAM, which united Georgia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova.
By and large, it was a union of states offended by Russia, which had their own - both economic and geopolitical - claims to the Kremlin, but only some of them had “levers” - gas fields capable of making Moscow politicians, if not compliant, then least scrupulous in the choice of responses. That was before Vladimir Putin came to the Kremlin.
Now the times have changed, and the gas war between Russia and Ukraine will set relations between the CIS countries in a different frame. Now in the post-Soviet space a different method of political pressure can be and most likely will be applied - turning the valve on the gas pipeline. The Russian leadership has shown that in the CIS there may be other relations based on pressure. Not by military pressure, but more terrible is the deprivation of raw materials, without which no one can survive.
However, something in this sense has already happened in the past in relations between Uzbekistan and its neighboring states, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and the residents of these countries have long been aware of such a gas cutoff. True, as is customary in Eastern diplomacy, no one has ever justified shutting off gas supplies by political demands.
Although they can present a lot. Uzbekistan has always sought to be a geopolitical leader in Central Asia, interfering in the civil war in Tajikistan. Or, for example, a water problem. At one time, at the highest level in Kyrgyzstan, people were talking about selling water resources: if Uzbekistan often blackmails us with gas supplies, then it’s time, they say, to build dams in the sources of the Syr Darya and regulate water level, especially when the irrigation season of cotton plantations begins in Uzbekistan.
Something similar was said in Tajikistan. But then there are crafty projects, for the realization of which huge investments are needed to build dams, and there are no investments for such purposes. There is only one worthy rival of Uzbekistan - Turkmenbashi, who planned to build an artificial lake in the middle of the Karakum desert. Water, of course, from where - from the Amu Darya, which already does not reach the Aral Sea. But Turkmenbashi has enough petrodollars that allow him to erect gold monuments, palaces and reservoirs. Do not hesitate, the new lake will be named after him.
With water, everything is clear, gas remains, whose owners, by the will of the organizer of the Soviet borders, Comrade. Stalin, became Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Petitioners of gas, respectively, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Both countries are economically insolvent, so the gas problem for them is a political question, which can destabilize the situation in these countries. Three years ago, Tajikistan could hardly pay for the supply of Uzbek gas - about $ 2 million. The same situation was observed in the first half of the 90s, when interruptions in the supply of Uzbek gas to southern regions of Kazakhstan occurred, and its price was $ 80 per 1,000 cubic meters.
At the same time, the first symptoms of a political background in the gas Central Asian war appeared. Kyrgyzstan’s debt to Uzbekistan was about $ 10 million. And the reason, as the experts considered, was the fact that Karimov “didn’t really like” the statements of Akaev during his visit to Western Europe that his country was the only one in the region that was going right, democratically, that som was the most stable currency in Central Asia
That is a thing of the past. Now, in the post-Soviet space, we can expect qualitatively other gas wars, especially since the Kremlin has shown that this is possible, despite the agreements and signed documents, as is the case with Ukraine. Therefore, experts now have to look closely at the contracts concluded between countries, suggesting what reasons can be used as pressure.
From the latest news, it is worth mentioning the increase in the price of Uzbek gas supplied to Tajikistan: from December 30, 2005, from $ 42 to $ 55 per 1,000 cubic meters. In 2006, Tajikgas plans to purchase 750 million cubic meters of gas from Uztransgaz. In 2006, Kazakhstan will purchase in Uzbekistan 1.6 billion cubic meters of gas at a price of $ 55. This year, Russian Gazprom will purchase natural gas in Turkmenistan at $ 65. Inspired by Ukraine’s position on the gas issue, Moldova is now negotiating with Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan to change the price of natural gas supplies to it. This was announced to journalists in Chisinau by the Minister of Industry and Infrastructure of Moldova Vladimir Antosii. According to him, in particular, in addition to Gazprom, negotiations are underway with the company “Askom Group”, which is engaged in oil and gas production in Kazakhstan. Following all the negotiations on gas supplies to the republic, Chisinau intends to secure the price of gas when it enters the country at $ 80. It should be added that Ukraine signed a contract for the supply of Turkmen gas in the first quarter of 2006 at a price of $ 50.
And if Turkmenistan, known for its peculiar and sufficiently independent from Gazprom policy, however, like Kazakhstan, which strives to be a decent state in international obligations, the “dark horse” remains Uzbekistan.
Islam Karimov has long rushed about in search of friends for 15 years of his presidency - from Turkey, China to the West and the United States, in particular. Judging by the results of his last visit to Moscow, he may become the main geopolitical supporter of the Kremlin. And who knows what he wants and can do with two economic outcasts - Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
And now, presumably, the Uzbek gas valve has two methods of tightening - one in Tashkent and the second in Moscow. Sooner or later their interests may coincide.