11 Jun 2020 15:53

Primakov Readings: TAPI's future to remain hostage of politics for long time - experts

*** Interfax, IMEMO to hold an online session to discuss the future of EU as part of the Primakov Readings at noon on Thursday, June 18.

MOSCOW. June 11 (Interfax) - The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project, which is being vigorously implemented by Turkmenistan, remains a hostage of the political situation in Afghanistan and India-Pakistan relations, according to speakers at the online Primakov Readings on the subject of "India in the Focus of Interests: Russia, the United States, and China," which were organized by Interfax and the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO).

Vyacheslav Trubnikov, member of the administration of the Academy's Institute of World Economy and International Relations and former Russian ambassador to India (2004-2009), said, "Theoretically, it's possible, but for starters, it hasn't been confirmed even by geologists." "You have to understand that it's been planned to lay a pipeline in the mountains, and a pipeline is a living and moving thing. This is a seismically unstable area. So, it's a big if, not to mention the instability in Afghanistan. I personally don't see the chance for a settlement for now, despite the troop withdrawal agreement between the Afghan government and the United States. We should still see how things go inside Afghanistan," Trubnikov said.

Senior research fellow from the institute's department for international political affairs Alexei Kupriyanov added to his colleague's statement. "I can say that Vyacheslav Ivanovich was too kind when he described the situation in Afghanistan as unstable. I'm afraid we won't see the TAPI project happen for decades, until after the situation in Afghanistan actually stabilizes. There's no progress in this area so far," Kupriyanov said.

Honorary research fellow of the Observer Research Foundation, Gen. of the Army Nandan Unnikrishnan added that TAPI could become commercially advantageous only if India acts as a consumer. Yet India will never act as a consumer unless its relations with Pakistan improve. If relations with Pakistan are bad, India will not agree to have Pakistan's hand on the tap, Unnikrishnan said.

The gas pipeline with an annual capacity of 30 bcm will be 1,814 kilometers long, including 214 kilometers to be laid in the territory of Turkmenistan, 774 in Afghanistan, and 826 kilometers in Pakistan, to the town of Fazilka on the border with India. Its cost is preliminarily estimated at $10 billion.

The state company Turkmengas holds 85% of the stock of TAPI Pipeline Company, which is building the pipeline and will serve as its operator in the future. The Afghan Gas Corporation, Pakistan's Inter State Gas Systems (Private) Limited, and India's GAIL have 5% each.

Construction of TAPI's Turkmen sector began in December 2015. Ground was broken in Afghanistan on February 23, 2018. The Turkmen authorities reported in late May 2020 that pipes had been welded throughout the Turkmen segment of the pipeline.

Fear of sanctions

India doesn't want to expose itself to American sanctions by getting involved in the construction of the North-South gas pipeline and buying S-400 air defense missile systems, Nandan Unnikrishnan, a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation think tank based in New Delhi, said on Thursday.

"I believe the North-South corridor is a very promising objective, and it makes sense to try to attain it, but we shouldn't forget that Iran is also under sanctions, and any work in this area may expose countries involved in this to sanctions. India wouldn't like to find itself in a situation where it could be exposed to additional U.S. sanctions. We're already in a situation in which the purchase of S-400s could be sanctioned," Unnikrishnan said during an online session of the Primakov Readings addressing India in the Focus of Interests: Russia, the U.S., China, which Interfax and the Russian Academy of Sciences' Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) held on Thursday.

"The Indian elite now have some doubts about Russia's position, not only on China, but even sometimes on Pakistan," he said.

"Therefore, a significant slant toward the U.S. is visible in India's policy now, and it's natural, because the U.S. appears to be a more reliable partner to counterbalance China," Unnikrishnan said.

Alexei Kupriyanov, a senior academic fellow at IMEMO's department of international policy problems, said in commenting on trade-economic relations between Moscow and New Delhi, "If we want to bring our economic relations to the level of our political relations, we should explore new opportunities."

"I think they do exist, but they consist not in lifting tariff barriers and not in attempts to come up with more goods that could be bought in Russia or India, but in a new pattern of our cooperation, which would imply joint activities on the markets of third countries, possibly drawing Western or Chinese capital," Kupriyanov said.

"This cooperation shouldn't be reduced only to joint operations on the markets of third countries, but this should be full-scale cooperation in advanced and promising sectors, such as space and ocean exploration, the digital economy, or the manufacturing of new types of weapons," he said.

"For the time being, we have a situation in which Russian and Indian specialists are valued highly and work side-by-side, but for some reason, they do this in Silicon Valley and for America's good. We should remove this intermediary and form joint projects and joint tech clusters. And the state should play the initiating role here by providing the initial impetus for cooperation and removing obstacles to this," Kupriyanov said.

"This is the only way for Russia and India to deal with the technological and economic challenges of the future," he said.

Oil replacement

The countries of the Middle East and the United States have benefited from the U.S. sanctions on Iran by supplying their oil to the Indian market to make up for the absence of Iranian oil there, according to experts from the Russian Academy of Sciences' Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) 

"First of all, [the countries that benefited from the sanctions are] the Gulf countries, that is, all Arab countries of the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, that is, virtually all countries that are located close to India, produce oil, and are not under the pressure of the U.S. sanctions," Alexei Kupriyanov, a senior academic fellow at IMEMO, said during the online session of the Primakov Readings on Thursday.

Nandan Unnikrishnan, a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation think tank based in New Delhi, said, "I would also add Venezuela, but Russia could also benefit from this in some sense, so to speak, in a long-term perspective." 

Vyacheslav Trubnikov, a member of IMEMO's directorate and Russia's ambassador to India in 2004-2009, said Russia could consolidate its standing on the Indian oil market by admitting Indian companies to its own upstream projects. "I personally believe that this is quite a realistic option. Cooperation with India on the Sakhalin-1 oil production project has shown that Indians are efficient in this field, and this is beneficial to Russia and to India. I believe this is quite a realistic option," he said.

Russia-India-China cooperation 'triangle'

Russia and India should pool their efforts to develop trilateral cooperation with China, as their cooperation has vast potential, Russian Ambassador to New Delhi Nikolai Kudashev said.

"I believe that we should actively participate in 'triangle' cooperation with China together with India, despite the problems arising in its course. This is not an imaginary or virtual triangle, it exists on the map, and I am sure that it has lots of resources," Kudashev said during the online Primakov Readings session.

In turn, Special Presidential Representative for International Cultural Cooperation Mikhail Shvydkoi said that a videoconference among the foreign ministers of Russia, India, and China is under consideration, and "the consideration process is nearing completion."

"This is especially important under the current circumstances, not just the pandemic, but also the political and politico-economic agenda," Shvydkoi said.

The previous session of the Primakov Readings "U.S. can't afford to contain both Russia and China - experts" was held on June 4.