The inauguration of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline did not stop the long-standing disputes between oil specialists and politicians about who and why need this gigantic transport line, which was built for 12 years and cost $ 4 billion. Is there enough oil in Azerbaijan’s oil fields? supply 50 million tons of oil to Ceyhan terminals for which they are designed? Will Kazakhstan provide additional oil supplies from its fields? Will Turkmenistan connect to BTC by 2011, as the project management plans? There are no answers to these questions yet. Although the first oil went a little earlier, but the official opening in the presence of all three presidents - Ilham Aliyev, Ahmet Necdet Sezer and Mikhail Saakashvili, leaders of oil companies, representatives of countries supporting the project, took place on July 13.
On the part of the main political and economic sponsor of the project, the Deputy Minister of Energy of the USA was present. Since the beginning of the 90s, this pipeline and the so-called “contract of the century” in general have caused a lot of different judgments and even altercations and unrest. At the urgent request and with the strong support of the then US President Bill Clinton, this project was signed, and the construction of the pipeline began. What preceded the signing of this contract? The United States has shown deep interest in this project due to the huge hydrocarbon reserves in the region and the desire to establish full control over them. This could not but affect the honor of the permanent hegemon of this region - Russia (albeit weakening at that time and not fully defending its national interests abroad). There was a sharp cooling of relations between Azerbaijan and Russia, which were already not very warm. The projections of the Russian side about the unprofitability of the project, that it’s more a political pipeline than an economic one, had very good reasons, because the United States lobbying this project after the collapse of the “evil empire,” that is, the USSR, sought to extend its expansion to the whole space CIS, and in particular - to the Caspian region rich in hydrocarbon resources.
The goal of the project is to deprive Russia of its monopoly on the transportation of Caspian and, in the long run, Kazakh and Central Asian oil to world markets. This means a weakening of the political influence of Moscow in the Transcaucasus, Kazakhstan and Central Asia. Baku and Tbilisi are hoping that the billions of dollars that Azerbaijan will receive, and the millions that will settle in Georgia for the transit of oil, will not only help the weak economies of these countries, but also allow them to pursue their policies, regardless of Moscow.
It is symptomatic that BTC opened simultaneously with the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, at which Russia's main task was to reach agreements with Europe, the United States and Japan on so-called energy security, by which Moscow understands guarantees that it will become a preferred supplier of oil and gas to world markets. For several months now, the term “energy state” and its various derivatives have been used in speeches by Russian leaders; theories are being expressed that Russia, together with its allies (apparently, together with Iran) will become a price-setter on global hydrocarbon markets, replacing OPEC in this capacity.
The opening of the BTC pipeline shows that there will be no Russian or Russian-Iranian monopoly on the energy market. The main player lobbying for the construction of the BTC, from the very beginning was the United States. It is unlikely that the Americans seriously hope to replace Middle Eastern oil with Caspian oil - it will not be enough for the American market, even if oil from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan really comes to Ceyhan. But it is already quite a lot to press the Russian companies in Europe and, of course, in Turkey itself. However, it is doubtful that the Americans would give such importance to the struggle with Russian oil companies - the latter are weak and technologically too dependent on Western partners to be rivals of American and European giants. The question is precisely in the political ousting of Russia from Transcaucasia, Kazakhstan and Central Asia, which will be replaced by Turkey. The discovery of BTC is changing the political picture in a strategically important region of the world. With the help of Washington and London, Turkey is becoming the strongest power in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Near and Middle East. At the same time, Turkey is not turning into a European-type country. For Turkey, BTC is the most important political, economic and financial project. Turkey, despite the lack of energy resources and attacks by Kurdish rebels, shows high rates of economic growth. Financial support in the form of BTC will allow Ankara not only to accelerate the pace of economic growth, but also to begin social reforms, which the European Union insists on, which Turkey is so eager to. If we also take into account the Blue Stream gas, which Turkey intends to trade in the markets, this country is becoming the largest hydrocarbon supply operator in Southern Europe and, in the future, in other European regions and in part to the United States.
As for Kazakhstan, its entry into the BTC project makes this pipeline more profitable. At the first stage, Kazakhstan intends to ship via BTC to 7.5-10 million tons of oil per year with further expansion of capacity to 25 million tons (Azerbaijan has already announced a possible expansion of the project to 75 million tons of oil transshipment per year). From 2008, it is assumed that oil from the Kashagan field will be partially transported via BTC. In 2006, Kazakhstan intends to deliver about 3 million tons of oil to BTC. However, while the statements of the leadership of Kazakhstan on this subject are much more modest than the intentions of the “commercial” participants in the project. Thus, Eni, ConocoPhillips and Total participating in the BTC and the Kashagan project announced in June that they intend to invest another $ 4 billion in the pipeline from the field to the Kazakh port of Kuryk, as well as the infrastructure for oil transshipment on the Kuryk-Baku sea route. Azerbaijan is negotiating the expansion of BTC with the American Halliburton. Nursultan Nazarbayev, according to Reuters, also met with representatives of the company, but at the same time considers the expansion of the BTC "a matter of the distant future." It is not the first time that Kazakhstan has taken actions that allow it to leave the possibility of a “third way” in relations between Russia, the EU, the USA and China - almost all the recent actions of the Vladimir Putin administration within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the confrontation of Russia and the OSCE, the territorial division of the Caspian Sea and other topics which in the Kremlin consider “geopolitically important”, they run into a “special position” of Astana. Nazarbayev is quite happy with the role of the “weak link” in the political and economic structures being built by Russia, since Moscow is limited in its ability to put pressure on Kazakhstan. In such circumstances, the United States receives powerful levers of economic and financial influence on the region. And the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline is such a lever. But so that there is no pipeline there is already a reality and Russia will have to put up with it.