VIENNA – Kazakhstan is not ready to supply gas to Nabucco at this stage, but Astana is willing to consider supporting the gas pipeline to Austria as the former Soviet Republic develops its gas resources, and if the project makes sense economically, top Kazakh officials told New Europe in Vienna on 13 January.
"If we determine that there is economic feasibility in us participating in Nabucco then we will be willing to consider supporting that project and we will support this project," Kazakh Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev, whose country just took over the leadership of the Vienna-based OSCE for 2010, told foreign journalists, responding to question from New Europe at Palais Coburg. The rooftops outside the suite-only luxurious hotel were covered by snow as Vienna faced subzero temperatures, a stark reminder of Europe's need for energy supplies and, arguably, to lessen its dependence on Russia. Nabucco is planned to stretch from Eastern Turkey through Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary to Austria.
Soon thereafter, Kazakhstan's Deputy Foreign Minister Konstantin V. Zhigalov told New Europe that, at the moment, Kazakhstan is mostly an oil country. He noted, however, that in a few years the country's Kashagan oilfield, which contains a high proportion of natural gas, will be further developed and additional supplies of gas could be available for Nabucco. He confirmed that Saudabayev agreed with Austrian President Heinz Fischer and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger earlier in the day to expand cooperation, including energy.
Nabucco Gas Pipeline International GmbH spokesman Christian Dolezal told New Europe in Vienna that the consortium does not exclude any potential source for Nabucco and would "appreciate" Kazakhstan's interest.
"If Kazakhstan said that they have interest also in the project or made a few political statements in this respect, it is also positive," he said, adding that it would be an additional source for the pipeline. He reiterated that the final investment decision is expected to take place in the fourth quarter of 2010.
However, Kazakhstan will not have enough spare gas to fill Nabucco on its own. "Kazakhstan provides only part of the solution for Nabucco but not the whole solution," Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Moscow's Uralsib bank, told New Europe on 12 January. Azerbaijan seems the more logical supplier for Nabucco. Other potential suppliers are Turkmenistan, which has large gas reserves, and Iraq. A high ranking official at OMV, a major Nabucco shareholder, told New Europe at the Austrian company's headquarters on 14 January that there are a lot of efforts to make deals with all these countries.
Weafer noted that Nabucco's main competitor is no longer Russia, it is China. China already has a major link directly into Turkmenistan gas fields and has been pouring money into new projects there. "But, prospects for Nabucco to source enough gas improved considerably once Russia cut a new deal to purchase a lot less gas from Turkmenistan than previously intended," Weafer said. Still, Nabucco is facing considerable logistical problems to pull enough gas from all their countries into one pipe - and, critically, to do so before South Stream. Otherwise it may finally have enough gas but not enough customers, Weafer said. "Kazakhstan is in a real nice sweet spot with investment and energy deals with Russia, China and Europe," he said. "It, like Azerbaijan and, maybe eventually Turkmenistan, are the real winners from this latest Great Game play."