Listening to some of the commentary on the signing of the intergovernmental agreement which lays the foundation for the construction of the Nabucco pipeline reminds me of Raphael Patai’s famous observation about the political culture of the Middle East.
“The mere statement that an agreement has been reached suffices to impart a feeling of accomplishment. Once this is done, that is, once the verbal statement has been made, the pressure to do something eases, and there follows a period of quiescence during which little or nothing is done to translate the words into deeds.”
However, as Muharrem Eksi, the energy coordinator for the Turkey-based Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, points out that even though an agreement was signed, it does not guarantee that Nabucco will be built, especially if the Russian-backed South Stream line moves ahead. “The project that is completed first will cause the other one to be postponed due to financial problems and a lack of resources. In this respect, the Nabucco and South Stream projects will compete with each other in the short and medium term.”
The agreement still does not lay out some key questions about the sources of supply for the pipeline–which must be answered before major investment in the project is made.
And here we run into some issues. Nabucco has been sold in Washington as a project designed to 1) diversify Europe’s gas supply away from dependence on Russian sources and 2) get the energy resources of non-Russian Eurasian states to European markets in a non-Russian controlled pipeline.
Yet we have Turkish spokesmen arguing that Nabucco could easily carry Russian gas to Europe. For Ankara, the main goal is to have a pipeline crossing Turkish territory that pays fees and makes Turkey a more integral part of European energy and economic security. The gas for that line cancome from Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Iran–even Russia. Yet giving Russia another transit route doesn’t serve the objective of getting Europe weaned off dependence on Moscow–and it is difficult to expect that one will find much enthusiasm in Washington for a Nabucco line used by Russia as a way to bypass Ukraine and other Central European transit countries.
There is also considerable speculation about natural gas from Iraq, particularly Iraqi Kurdistan, being supplied to feed the Nabucco line (and beyond that, always the murmurs about Iran’s vast reserves coming into play). Turning Nabucco into a supply line for Middle East gas does help Europe diversify, meeting the first goal. But makes it less likely that the Nabucco consortium would push hard for possibly costly schemes of getting Turkmen, Kazakh and Uzbek gas–making it less likely that Central Asian producers would be able to reach European markets without going through Russia.
Nabucco gets a new lease on life because of this agreement. But to be commercially feasible, will the Nabucco consortium move away from the political goals which inspired the project in the first place?
Nikolas K. Gvosdev, an Atlantic Council contributing editor, is on the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of the Navy or the U.S. government.