Uzbekistan’s state-owned natural gas company is still working on adjusting pipeline infrastructure to enable it to import fuel from Russia, a measure it is pursuing to help avoid a repeat of the chronic shortages endured over winter.
Uztransgaz said on its Telegram channel on March 3 that the aim of the work is to avoid gas imported from Russia interfering with the flow of locally produced gas in the national pipeline network.
This imminent reliance on Russian gas represents a crushing acceptance of failure of Uzbekistan’s energy sector development agenda. As recently as last year, Tashkent earned money selling gas to China, but an Uztransgaz representative was compelled to admit in December that all exports had been halted as public anger mounted over a nationwide wave of power outages.
Russia, which has rendered itself an international pariah by invading Ukraine, spotted an opportunity in the crisis. In late November, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly spoke during a meeting in Moscow with Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev about the notion of setting up a “trilateral [gas trading] union” that would also include Uzbekistan.
The initial Uzbek reaction was circumspect. Energy Minister Jorabek Mirzamahmudov was cited by Reuters news agency as saying that Tashkent had not been consulted on the issue, but that if any gas agreement was signed, it would be a purely technical and financial transaction. Not political in other words.
And then, in late January, Uzbekistan reached an agreement with Russia to explore the possibility of reversing the flow of gas in the Central Asia-Center pipeline to send supplies south instead of north.
An energy official in Tashkent told AFP news agency that deliveries might start as soon as March 1, although that deadline has now come and gone. No public statement has been made on when the first gas will be pumped to Uzbekistan. No information has been divulged either on how much Russia intends to supply and what the terms of sale are.
Kazakhstan is likewise poised to start sourcing some of its gas needs from Russia. Like Uzbekistan, it too has had to forego China-bound exports.
“Taking the growth in gas consumption within Kazakhstan into account, QazaqGaz cannot count on exports in the next fall-winter period,” the deputy chairman of Kazakhstan’s state-owned natural gas company, Arman Kasenov said on February 24.
Earlier that same week, Kazakh Energy Minister Bolat Akchulakov said at a government meeting that plans are being drawn up to import gas from Russia to provide for areas in the east of Kazakhstan.
The infrastructure for those specific imports does not yet exist, however. Extending gas supplies to those regions of Kazakhstan will be contingent on completion of a transnational pipeline running from Russia to China.
This article originally appeared on Eurasianet here.