By: Said M. Azam
In her book, the new geopolitics of natural gas, Agnia Grigas states that American supremacy in oil and gas, propelled by the boom in shale production in the United States, will disturb the balance of power in Eurasia.
Grigas’s thesis is that Russia as the main provider of gas in Europe will lose some of her economic and political power; the foreign policy tools that Russia has traditionally exercised over European countries since decades for advancing Russia’s geopolitical goals. Consequently, Grigas concludes, that Russia will become more dependent on China for exporting her natural gas.
It will be then China to manipulate Russia’s dependency on her for advancing China’s own geopolitical goals in Eurasia and beyond (Grigas, 2017). This paper highlights that India will benefit from Shale gas boom in the United States, whereas, will suffer as a result of Russia’s dependency on China.
In the scenario where Russia will become more dependent on exporting gas to China, the geopolitical implications would be far greater than only weakening Russia’s position. It will also give an upper hand to China vis-à-vis India. India is already in a comparatively disadvantage position for lacking connectivity to any gas and oil producing country via pipelines. China has the luxury for being connected to oil and gas reserves in Central Asia and Russia via pipeline networks. China for the first time-ever imported natural gas through a pipeline just ten years ago. After successful launch of the first line of Central Asian Gas Pipeline (CAGP) that connected China to Turkmenistan, the two partners agreed to add three additional pipelines: Line B, Line C, and Line D. Making them four altogether with the initial Line A (Grigas, 2017). China is expected to receive gas via Power of Siberia pipeline from Russia at the end of 2019 (Papageorgiou, 2019). Power of Siberia is part of the $400 billion deal, singed in 2014, according to which Russia will provide over one trillion cubic meters of gas to China over a period of thirty years. More importantly, China possesses within its own territory the largest shale gas reserves in the world and a substantial quantity of oil reserves.
It is also world’s largest producer and consumer of coal. Moreover, China imports substantial quantities of oil and gas via sea from multiple foreign sources, including Russia and the United States. Aggregately, the out of necessity Russia’s tilt and dependence on China, will further increase the latter’s ability to have access to energy products in abundance and at a lower cost, which means attainment of energy security (Grigas, 2017).
In contrast, energy-poor India is greatly reliant on imports of energy products through marine vessels. A fact that makes the country very vulnerable from national energy security perspective (Grigas, 2017). India is projected to be the most populous country of the world by 2040. It is already the third largest economy, after the United States and China. India is the fourth largest consumer of energy products after the United States, China, and Russia. To be continued
This article has been published in Pajhowk Afghan News
However, it has one of the lowest per capita energy consumption rate in comparison to other large economies such as China and South Korea (IAE, 2018). In an event of a natural or human-made disruption in international waters, Indian economy and society will suffer.
India feels that it has been systematically pushed to periphery by its primary rival and competitor, China. China’s ambitious BRI initiative has placed India in an uncomfortable situation. India views China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a factor potentially making India further isolated from its neighborhood in the region. Therefore, from India’s perspective, the BRI is counterproductive for India’s ability to attain “prosperity for its citizens” (Khurana, 2019). The main objectives of BRI are to connect China via landlocked Central Asia to Europe. The second portion of BRI, 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, will connect Southeast Asian growing economies to China via seaports and railways (Cai, 2017).
India has tried in the past, though unfruitful so far, to connect to energy rich Central Asia via pipeline(s). India along with its neighbor Pakistan are members in the pipeline project known as TAPI. Since mid-1990s, initially Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and later India joined the initiative to extend a gas pipeline from gas rich Turkmenistan to energy deficient Pakistan and India.
Acronym TAPI represents, respectively, first letter from Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Primarily security situation in Afghanistan and Baluchistan of Pakistan has deprived the project to become operational since its formation (Grigas, 2017). Another hindering factor could be lack of experience among member states in managing transnational pipeline projects, particularly those involving security challenges.
In addition, India has explored a potential gas pipeline connecting Russian Siberia to India either through China or Iran (Times, 2016). India is also looking to construction of a sub-sea gas pipeline, with the help of Russia that will connect Iran to India via Oman Sea and Indian Ocean (Roy, 2019). The prospect for implementation of these projects seems low due to technical constrains, higher cost, and geopolitical consideration (Times, 2016).
India was one of the first countries that received American LNG tankers. Indeed, entrance of US as a liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter in global gas market is an auspicious development, though minor, towards achieving India’s energy security. Because, in addition to Qatar, Australia, Russia and other LNG exporting countries, US LNG can provide an extra lifeline for the gigantic economy of India (Grigas, 2017). It is also noticeable that US LNG export to Europe increased over 270 percent since 2016 when US started exporting LNG for the first time (EC, 2019).
Leaders of energy sector in Russia must have been examining challenges and opportunities ahead of their industry in the wake of American shale boom. China’s successful initiatives for diversifying its energy sources is an additional factor for making them to be worried about future of Russia’s energy products. Russia’s economy and also its status as a major global power are substantially dependent on revenues generated by exports of oil and gas. Europe and China are the biggest, respectively, markets for Russian gas (Grigas, 2017). Whatever conclusion they make, pragmatically, they do not want to see Russia’s lucrative source of revenues between a rock and a hard place. India needs to capture and invest on this momentum.
India can propose a gas pipeline project to Russia that connects the two countries. In addition, probably an oil pipeline too. One option is that India teams up with other TAPI members to invite Russia to join their collective effort. Alternatively, India together with Russia can design a new gas pipeline that either extends parallel to the proposed TAPI route after it reaches from Russia to Turkmenistan; meaning; Russia, Kazakhstan, and then Turkmenistan, Afghanistan (Kandahar), Pakistan (Baluchistan) and India; or through a different route that starts from Russia and continues via Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan (Jalalabad), Pakistan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), before it reaches India. Even better from India’s energy security point of view, if Russia joins TAPI and participate in building an additional energy corridor.
India’s initiative to invite Russia to join TAPI will be identical to China’s decision in 2006 which captured the momentum presented as a result of difficult relationship between Turkmenistan and Russia over gas price. Back then, Russia would buy gas from landlocked Turkmenistan at a lower price and resell it to its customers in Europe at a more than double price (Grigas, 2017).
When president of Turkmenistan visited China in 2006, China immediately embraced the opportunity and invested on that. As a result of that pragmatic vision and decision, today, China is in a uniquely comfortable status in terms of its energy security.
Inclusion of Russia in TAPI or in an alternative pipeline project will make building an energy corridor from Eurasia to Indian subcontinent more feasible. Russia has decades-long experience in managing transnational pipeline projects. It also possesses resources as a regional power which could be effective in withstanding potential security challenges ahead of the pipeline(s). Recent political developments in Afghanistan in which Russia has been playing a prominent role could contribute to feasibility and implementing gas and oil pipeline project(s) via Afghanistan.
Moscow has hosted several rounds of peace talks between the Taliban, the main militant group in Afghanistan, and other political factions (Marson, 2018) and (Roy, 2019). US government officials also have been negotiating with the Taliban for a peace deal (Qazi, 2019). US officials and representatives of the Taliban in peace talks have expressed their optimism for reaching a political settlement. The Taliban movement is the largest group that has actively strived to disrupt security in Afghanistan in the last two decades.
Those parts of Afghanistan that TAPI will pass through, have frequently witnessed violent scenes since 2001. Many observers believe that Russia’s relationship has improved substantially with Pakistan in recent years (Butt, 2019). Russia has a history of good relationship with India.
Historically Russia has tried to bar Central Asian republics from exporting their energy products directly to markets in Europe. “Russia was reluctant to allow Turkmenistan to pursue its proposed 300km gas pipeline to Azerbaijan, which would open up its huge, cheap, gas reserves to a European market at present dominated by Gazprom,” (Greenwood, 2018).
Russia will become dependent on territories of Central Asian countries when it exports its gas and oil via pipelines to South Asia. Russia will inevitably choose to cooperate rather than to dominate its less powerful neighbors in Central Asia. Consequently, Turkmenistan and other energy-rich countries in the region might be set free to export their products to lucrative markets in Europe and elsewhere.
For Russia, its lucrative industry and its status as a major power are at stake. For India, it translates to a golden and a rarely found opportunity availing itself which the South Asian power can use for attaining its energy security. A goal that India has been striving for since decades to achieve. Moreover, the phenomenal development will mark itself as a new dawn in the history of cooperation between regional countries. When Pakistan and India celebrate 75th anniversary of their independence in 2022, the two nations will have more hopes for a prosperous and peaceful future than to commemorate the tragic events of the past.
Desk of Monitors: The Kabul Times
This article has been published in Pajhowk Afghan News