Events in Afghanistan put an end to another attempt to deliver gas and oil from the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea to Pakistan and India. Russia could have its own interest in this – from the supply of pipes and equipment to the possibility of joining this export route. But now the countries of the region, which have access to the Indian Ocean, are finally reorienting to liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar and Australia and oil from the Middle East and the United States.
The gas pipeline project “Turkmenistan – Afghanistan – Pakistan – India” (TAPI) with a capacity of 33 billion cubic meters per year is already more than thirty years old, but its implementation is constantly hindered by the unstable situation in the region. In 2010, things seemed to get off the ground, an agreement on construction was signed. Since then, pipes have been laid in India, Turkmenistan and partly in Pakistan. Russia participated in the construction; in 2019, a contract for more than $ 200 million was signed with the Chelyabinsk Pipe-Rolling Plant for the supply of pipes for a piece of the Turkmen section. In Afghanistan, work began only in 2018, but it progressed very slowly, and now, apparently, will be completely stopped.
Turkmenistan is most interested in a pipeline to the south through Afghanistan. The country ranks 4th in the world in terms of proven gas reserves – 19.5 trillion cubic meters (for comparison, in Russia – 38 trillion cubic meters). But there is no one in particular to supply Turkmen gas. Its only serious buyer is China, which is also a major creditor of the country. Gas is often used as payment for loans from Turkmenistan. In addition, the gas pipeline to China passes through the territories of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, which are also gas exporters and have their share (7 billion cubic meters) in a 40 billion cubic meter pipe a year. Part of the gas from Turkmenistan is bought by Russia – 5.5 billion cubic meters per year. There is also a gas pipeline to Iran, which itself would gladly sell its gas to someone. As a result, the entire export of Turkmen gas does not exceed 38-40 billion cubic meters per year. By the way, gas exports from Russia are 180-200 billion cubic meters per year.
The Russian gas pipeline system has been connected to the Turkmen one since Soviet times. If the gas pipeline is completed, our country could well count on a share in pumping gas to the south. If only because Turkmenistan simply could not quickly increase production by 33 billion cubic meters. Thus, Russian pipeline gas could end up in India, the third country in the world in terms of energy consumption, which so far buys them from us in very modest volumes, compared, for example, with China, Japan or South Korea.
In addition to the gas pipeline, it was planned to build an oil pipeline back in the late 1990s. Unlike a gas pipe, the oil pipeline would not turn to India, but would go to the Pakistani port of Guadar, which would make it possible to make oil supplies from Central Asia and Russia to India profitable.
If the gas pipeline through Afghanistan were completed, Russian gas could be fully sold to India, the world’s third-largest consumer of energy resources.
It is noteworthy that in 2001, when the United States sent troops into Afghanistan, one of the real reasons for the invasion was often Washington’s desire to ensure the security of the Trans-Afghan oil and gas pipelines. The project was then expected to be carried out by the American company Unocal Corporation, and it was also preparing to become the pipeline operator. But the United States failed to quickly calm Afghanistan, and then the attitude of Turkmenistan and Pakistan to the conditions of pumping oil and gas changed, which forced the Americans to withdraw from the project.
Now Qatar, Australia, Saudi Arabia and the United States will be the main beneficiaries of the construction halt. For their oil and LNG, India is a very tasty production.
How Russia Trades with Afghanistan
Back in 2017, the share of fuel and mineral resources in the structure of exports from Russia to Afghanistan reached 50%. At that time, exports to the country were at their maximum ($ 205.3 million). But in 2018, the supply of fuel and ferrous metals fell sharply.
Now export is growing at the expense of food and processing industry products, says Vladimir Shaforostov, partner of NEO Center. Vegetable oils are the main export commodities – they occupy 44%, fuel and wood are in second and third places – 20% and 18%, respectively. In 2020, exports from Russia to Afghanistan amounted to $ 153.3 million. This is about 2% of Afghanistan’s import operations and hundredths of a percent of total exports from Russia, Shaforostov estimates.
Afghanistan supplies to Russia mainly fruits and nuts: in 2020 they were imported in the amount of $ 3.2 million a year (89% of all supplies from Afghanistan to Russia), of which $ 2.8 million fell on raisins.