British royalty steps into Central Asia energy diplomacy

October 31, 2008

Britain’s Prince Andrew stepped into Central Asia energy diplomacy this week, touring the vast former Soviet region and holding top-level talks on gas supplies in remote Turkmenistan.

Western envoys have flocked to Central Asia over past years, hoping to grab a share of its abundant energy reserves – a worrisome trend for Russia which sees the mainly Muslim region as part of its traditional sphere of interest.

Turkmenistan, a long-isolated Caspian nation, has been of particular interest since its new president came to power in 2006 promising to open its doors to foreign investors.

Prince Andrew – who doubles as Britain’s special representative for international trade and investment – sat down for talks with President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov to discuss expanding energy supplies to Europe.

Although little came out of the closed-door meeting, his visit symbolised growing Western interest in forging closer energy relations with Central Asia’s biggest gas exporter.

“The president expressed readiness to look into any proposals with this regard (expanding gas shipments) and noted that the energy potential of the country can allow for virtually any volumes of gas shipments,” the state news agency Turkmen Khabarlary reported.

But Turkmenistan’s ambitions to diversify shipments away from Russia remain under question as Moscow still controls, as in Soviet times, its gas export network. Turkmenistan says its reserves exceed 20 trillion cubic metres — way above the 2.9 tcm estimated by BP.

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