Friday 15 June 2012

Natural Gas Europe - The BTE Pipeline Blast: The Implications of Sabotage

Below is my latest article for Natural Gas Europe - original here.

At the end of May, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipeline carrying gas from Azerbaijan to Turkey blew up in the Turkish section. Full supplies were suspended until 11 June, whilst repair work was carried out on the line. The extent of the damage and the reluctance of Turkish officials to confirm the cause have led to widespread speculation that Kurdish militants were responsible.

If this is the case it underlines the ongoing security threats to gas supplies to Turkey, and highlights the risks which new pipelines to bring Caspian gas to Europe may face. Although Ankara has emphasised the importance of securing critical energy infrastructure, pipelines remain extremely vulnerable. Whilst the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) remains active, providing perfect security will remain impossible.

Information about the BTE blast, which took place on 29 May in or near the city of Kars, remains extremely scarce.  The route of the BTE pipeline runs through Turkey’s northeast and eastern regions, a little outside the PKK’s normal operating area of southeastern Turkey but certainly not out of their reach. A 2008 attack on the BTC oil pipeline took place in Refahiye, which is significantly west of Kars and also out of the PKK’s usual operating area.

Saturday 9 June 2012


I will be in Astana for the next week attending a conference. Any readers based out here that fancy meeting up, do let me know on

Friday 8 June 2012

A Fragile Détente on Turkey’s Kurdish Issue

Turkish politics recently has been like a rolling avalanche. Issues and controversies get picked up and never dropped; instead, they get tangled up together until every part of political life is made up of myriad, interlocking dramas.

For instance, the historic negotiations between the AKP government and the main opposition CHP over the Kurdish question cannot be disentangled from: the bad blood between the two parties, PM Erdoğan’s alleged authoritarian streak and his war of words with the pro-Kurdish BDP, the new constitution, the clampdown on the KCK, foreign policy, the aftermath of the Uludere airstrike, the role of the military in politics and the internecine battles between the military, government, and intelligence services.

With all that in mind, there are grounds for a bit of scepticism over the negotiations between the main parties to find a kind of grand bargain over the Kurdish issue. For one thing, there is no love lost between the prickly Prime Minister and the CHP’s Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who has largely shed his professorial image after a series of bruising clashes with the government and with party rebels. The body language in this photo is pretty indicative of their frosty relationship.

Thursday 7 June 2012

SCO Summit Promises Much, Delivers Little

The latest summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation has finished in Beijing, with Afghanistan and regional security the main topics under discussion. But as always with the SCO, watching the power relationships within the Eurasian security bloc is as interesting as the summit itself.

The location of the summit rotates each year but holding it in Beijing did give the Chinese an opportunity to shape the agenda and show off a bit. President Hu Jintao hwas pretty active, stressing that the SCO supported a “a new security concept that allows its member states to firmly maintain their interests, explore development paths that are suited to their individual conditions and fight against ‘interventionism.’”

The mention of interventionism is a bit of red meat for the bloc’s authoritarian leaders, who are all increasingly concerned (for their own reasons) about the growing clamour for international action in Syria.

But the other aspects of Hu’s security concept may also be rhetorical support for Central Asian states, which often feel pressured by Russia on the political and economic fronts. This may be reading too much into it but it would tie into the narrative that China and Russia are increasingly competing in Central Asia, with Russia providing cash and weaponry but also demanding political influence, whilst China simply pours money into natural resources, agriculture and commerce.

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Fighting Escalates Between Armenia and Azerbaijan

The shaky ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been severely tested this week by some of the worst violence for years. The clashes are alarming in both scale and location, and further fighting is very possible.

On 4 June three Armenian soldiers were killed and six wounded by Azerbaijani forces in a clash allegedly sparked by an attempted infiltration of Armenian-held territory. Azerbaijan, however, has claimed that the incident was a "provocation attempt" by Armenian forces. This was followed by news on 5 June that five Azeri soldiers were killed by what the Defence Ministry in Baku called Armenian "saboteurs".

This is one of the worst clashes in some time. Usually losses are confined to one side, and tend to be as a result of brief artillery duels, bursts of machinegun fire, or snipers. Whatever the truth of the 'incursions', the information available suggests that both sides attempted to seize positions held by the other at different points.

Friday 1 June 2012

Natural Gas Europe - Black Swans in the Black Sea? Romania’s Gas and the Southern Corridor

Below is my latest article for Natural Gas Europe. Original here.
The discovery of a major gasfield off Romania’s Black Sea coast back in February attracted a fair amount of attention. Preliminary estimates range from 42 to 84 billion cubic metres, according toOMV, which discovered the field along with ExxonMobil – a major find for Romania, and now the subject of talks with Bulgaria since part of the field lies in disputed waters.
Comparatively little attention has focused on the impact which the discovery might have on Europe’s Southern Corridor. If the field is as big as believed, and if the negotiations between Bulgaria and Romania can be settled amicably, then the race to bring Caspian gas to Europe could be changed from an unexpected direction.
In a nutshell, the development of significant gas reserves in the Black Sea – from the Khan Asparuh field and also from any new finds – would reduce the short-term imperative to supply gas from the Caspian to southeastern Europe.

Thursday 31 May 2012

Caspian Round-Up

Blogging has been very light of late. Normal service set to resume shortly. 

Some noteworthy stories which I will be looking at in more detail in the days ahead:

a)     Iran and Azerbaijan have continued to spar after the Eurovision contest. Iran’s navy is reportedly carrying out exercises along the maritime border with Azerbaijan; the Iranians have detained two Azeri poets and Baku has turned back a representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader “in accordance with Azerbaijan’s legislation”; Ali Hasanov has slammed Iran’s ‘false clergy’; and Azerbaijan has reportedly signed a new, $300m deal to buy some new Israeli drones.

b)    In related news the Iranians have also been trumpeting their new oil discovery in the Caspian, which lies in the Sardar Jangal field discovered late last year. At the time I argued that the coordinates given would put the field in Turkmen waters but this was wrong – turns out that the field is actually in what would reasonably be considered Azerbaijan’s waters instead. I will be speaking on the subject in Astana in a couple of weeks, for those attending the Caspian Offshore conference. It could be potentially big news if Iran does push forward with drilling.