The president of Turkmenistan blamed Russia’s state gas monopoly for a pipeline blast that shut off the Central Asian country’s exports, escalating a war of words that may help EU efforts to ease its energy dependence on Russia.
Turkmen President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov accused Russia’s Gazprom of “technological errors” that triggered Wednesday’s blast, and demanded it pay for the repairs and compensate Turkmenistan for damages.
The Turkmen Foreign Ministry said last week the explosion occurred after the Russian gas monopoly decided on short notice to reduce the amount of gas it takes from Turkmenistan without giving enough time to reduce its flow into the pipeline network.
Gazprom has refrained from comment on the incident, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday sought to downplay the incident, describing it as “purely technical.”
Moscow has sought to strengthen its domination on gas supplies to Europe by striking a deal with Turkmenistan last year to purchase most of its natural gas.
The contract was signed before the global financial crisis and the dwindling energy prices resulted in Russia now paying Turkmenistan more than it could charge its European customers.
Gazprom finally acted last week by drastically cutting the amount of gas it imports from Turkmenistan.
Berdymukhamedov said on Monday his country would invite independent experts to look at the incident if Gazprom fails to accept blame.
“We won’t allow them to hurt our image as a reliable supplier of energy resources to global markers,” he said in televised comments at a Cabinet session.
The unusually blunt language used by the Turkmen leader signaled a widening rift with Moscow that may have far-reaching consequences for energy exports to Europe.
Russia has aimed to corner the market on Turkmenistan’s immense gas reserves, but the Central Asian nation is also being courted vigorously by the West, which wants Turkmen gas to be pumped via a prospective trans-Caspian route that would feed into the planned US and EU-backed Nabucco pipeline.
In 2007, the Kremlin sought to undercut Nabucco by signing a declaration on the construction of a 1,700km pipeline along the Caspian Sea that would run from Turkmenistan through Kazakhstan and into Russia’s network of pipelines to Europe.
Gazprom hopes the pipeline will supplement current gas deliveries from Turkmenistan by around 30 billion cubic meters.
Work on building the pipeline has yet to get started, however, and the new rift between Gazprom and Turkmenistan could stall the project.
Berdymukhamedov was expected to sign a protocol on a second pipeline to Russia during a visit to Russia two weeks ago, but the move fell through for unspecified reasons.