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Austria asks Turkmenistan to back Nabucco pipeline

By Alexander Vershinin
October 13, 2011

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ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan—Austria's president urged energy-rich Turkmenistan on Thursday to help ensure the completion of a natural gas pipeline that Europe hopes will wean it off Russian supplies.

The Europe Union is lobbying heavily for the creation of the $12 billion Nabucco pipeline, which when completed would run 3,300 kilometers from Turkey to Austria, circumventing Russia. Its backers hope it can be filled with gas sourced from Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Iraq.

Europe is eager to diversify its gas purchases away from Russia, whose recurrent disputes with transit nation Ukraine have led to periodic cutoffs. Western Europe relies on Russia for a quarter of its gas needs.

Austrian President Heinz Fischer said during a visit to the former Soviet Central Asian nation that Europe wants to buy gas from Turkmenistan on mutually beneficial terms. That indicates Europe is willing to pay more than Turkmenistan's main existing customers -- China and Russia.

"In the sphere of natural gas, there is a very important supplier, and that is Turkmenistan," Fischer said. "On the other hand, there is a reliable and fair buyer of natural gas, and that is Europe."

Fischer said there should be no limit on the amount Turkmenistan exports.

The Nabucco pipeline project has faltered amid soaring costs estimates, uncertainty over the possibility of filling the 31 billion cubic meter annual capacity pipeline, and rival initiatives in southern Europe backed by Russia.

European and U.S. envoys have been assiduously courting Turkmenistan to ensure that it commits to eventually providing Nabucco with gas. No commercial deals have yet been signed, but Turkmenistan has given strong indications that it wishes to sell to Europe.

Financial terms of gas deals between Turkmenistan and buyers Russia and China are shrouded in secrecy, but analysts believe the sum they pay is considerably lower than that paid by European buyers for Russian gas.

Turkmenistan also aspires to also export gas to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

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