By Riccardo Puliti of the EBRD
Until recently the Nabucco pipeline, just like the chorus in Verdi’s opera of the same name, was a symbol of freedom. It was designed as an alternative route for large quantities of natural gas coming into Europe, reducing the continent’s dependency on the Soviet-built pipeline system that runs from East to West.
But the Nabucco dream did not become reality, mainly because it would not transport enough gas to make it viable and especially because Turkmenistan, a big producer of natural gas, was not part of the project. However, this vision of independence could yet live on in another guise – but only if there is the political will to drive it forward.
Turkey and Azerbaijan have further cemented their close relations with the signing of a $3.29bn credit agreement for the Turkish subsidiary of Azeri state oil company Socar, for the construction of a 10bn tonnes a year oil refinery to be constructed at Aliaga on Turkey’s Aegean coast.
The credit package, formally agreed on Friday, is both the largest single project finance agreement in Turkish history and, at 18 years, the deal with the longest maturity to date.
Imagine you are a young business in a former Soviet Republic, about to enter a greenfield investment with new Russian partners in a project in Russia for which you are providing the $1bn investment capital. Given the recent events in Ukraine, would you be feeling more or less nervous than you were a few months ago?
“We know that we are vulnerable,” says Nasib Piriyev, chief executive of the Azerbaijan Methanol Company. “Moscow has inherited the policies of the Soviet Union and it works with the same instruments.”
Nobody seriously doubted that Ilham Aliyev would be re-elected for a third term as president of Azerbaijan in Wednesday’s poll. Indeed, Aliyev was so confident of victory, which he took with a resounding 84.55 per cent of the vote, that he did not even bother to campaign. “The fact that this election was free and transparent is another serious step towards democracy,” he said.
Camil Hasanli, the main opposition leader, cried foul and described the election as an exercise in vote-rigging. Despite representing a coalition of some 20 opposition parties, the 61-year-old historian received only 5.53 percent of the vote.
Ordinarily the announcement of a pre-qualification tender for the construction of a pipeline wouldn’t rate much coverage outside of specialist news services.
But the publication Tuesday of adverts by the Trans Anatolian Gas Pipeline company (Tanap) requesting applications from companies interested in building its 1,800km gas line is a little different. It represents the beginning of the end of an EU plan hatched over a decade ago to bring gas from the Caspian basin west to European markets in competition to Russian gas.
The Azeri dialect of Turkish may sound strange to Turkish ears but it is perfectly intelligible and the increasing economic and political cooperation between the two states represents as much a common culture as the geographical imperative that makes Turkey the perfect export route for Azerbaijan’s sizeable reserves of oil and gas reserves.
Azerbaijan is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, transforming itself in a few years from a war-ravaged backwater into an increasingly assertive presence on the regional stage. Its emergence can largely be attributed to its hydrocarbon resources, marshalled by the government-owned State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (Socar).
Now Socar aims to play a central role in the diversification of gas supplies to Europe.
As the guardian of the nation’s oil windfall, Azerbaijan’s state oil fund has traditionally been a highly conservative investor. But as the global economic slowdown takes the shine off fixed income instruments, Sofaz has embarked on a quest for higher yields. After a first foray into gold and European luxury real estate last year, the fund is sizing up the property market in southeast Asia.
It’s not often a story links Mexico and Azerbaijan. But here’s a hilarious tale of what went wrong when Baku put up a statue in Mexico City to its late lamented president, the former KGB boss Heydar Aliyev.
It comes courtesy of Slate. To read on, click here.
For some truly daring frontier market investors Azerbaijan is beginning to look interesting, as a report in Monday’s FTfm explains.
There is no doubt that it has long term potential. In the 19th century Baku became known as the Black Gold Capital of the world and it remains rich in undeveloped petroleum resources. Its position in central Asia between the east and the west on the Caspian sea put it firmly on the old Silk Road and also gave it a rich trading history.
Total’s announcement this month of huge reserves at its offshore Absheron field in Azerbaijan does not on its own transform the European energy market.
At an estimated 150-300bn cubic metres (bcm), the gas field contains the equivalent of four to eight months of EU annual gas consumption.
But Total‘s news changes the picture for Azerbaijan, say experts, because it creates the tantalising possibility that the country could yield more such finds – and grow into a major gas source for the EU.
It seems unlikely that Butlins, ClubMed or Westin will branch into the hydrocarbons sector any time soon. But the State Oil and Company of Azerbaijan Republic (Socar) is planning to invest €258m to turn a plot of military land in Montenegro into a tourist resort.
Even competitors say such a chunky investment in Montenegro’s tourism would be a boon for the tiny Balkan country, which is busily establishing itself as a holiday destination.
But it remains to be seen whether Socar will complete the deal – which has run into a legal challenge – let alone make it pay, given its lack of experience in international tourism.
A statement by a senior BP official this week that the Nabucco pipeline was a lost cause may not be the final word on the much-delayed project to bring Caspian gas to Europe. But the European Union is being optimistic if it thinks Nabucco is alive and kicking. If the project stands any chance of happening in the short term it will be much smaller than originally conceived.
Eurovision kicks off Tuesday night in Baku and the Azerbaijani capital is decked out to the nines. The city’s imported London taxis are emblazoned with Eurovision designs and traffic billboards tick down the days to the song contest’s finale on Saturday which the government says it has spent $100m preparing for.
As thousands of first-time tourists start to pour into Baku from continental Europe, the country’s ministry of culture and tourism is looking at the first big test – and advertisement – for the country’s nascent tourism industry.