Turkmenistan rebukes Russia over ‘gas union’ comments

ASHGABAT (Reuters) – Turkmenistan warned Russia on Saturday against trying to extend its influence over the Central Asia-China natural gas supply chain after Moscow said more countries could join its “gas union” with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan all pump gas to China via a pipeline crossing the three countries; the lion’s share of gas comes from Turkmenistan as the two other countries have faced strong growth in domestic gas demand.

Russia, trying to open up new Asian markets for its gas after Western sanctions, said last year it was forging a gas union with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan that would streamline shipping and exporting gas to them and to third parties.

So far, the only practical step the union has announced was a plan to reverse another gas pipeline, which connects Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to Russia, so that Russia’s Gazprom could ship gas to Uzbekistan which has started experiencing energy shortages.

Russia’s foreign ministry said this week the gas union could be expanded as other countries were interested in joining it; it did not name any.

Turkmenistan’s foreign ministry responded on Saturday by saying that although Russia’s comments were vague, Ashgabat wanted to make it clear that it has not been consulted about the potential addition of new suppliers to the Chinese pipeline.

“The Turkmen side considers such an approach incomprehensible and unacceptable, and out country views it as going against international law and the established practice in the gas sector,” it said in a statement.

Russia used to be the main buyer of Turkmen gas before the construction of the Chinese pipeline, but now its share in Turkmen exports is small, and reversing the pipeline between Russia and Central Asia would put an end to such shipments.

(Reporting by Marat Gurt; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by David Evans)