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Thursday, April 24, 2008

What I Say, Not What I Do

// The price of the question
Apr. 21, 2008 - Kommersant by Alexander Gabuev - Russia has had intentions of forming a natural gas OPEC for several years now. Many attribute the idea to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who, seeing the success of the oil OPEC, was inspired to crease its gas sister. Tehran's plan, which saw the light of day in 2001, was not initially of great interest in Russia. But that changed in a few years. A reform of the natural gas market began in Europe, where Gazprom and the Russian federal budget along with it, derived a significant share of its income. The Europeans for some reasons adamantly refused to let Gazprom at the final consumer and demanded to dismember the monopoly into parts. That was when Moscow recollected the Iranian ayatollah's idea. A gas OPEC became a symbol the Russian gas industry used to intimidate its uncooperative European partners even as Russian authorities officially disowned all such plans. In 2006, for example, Valery Yazev, main Gazprom lobbyist in the State Duma, threatened that the new gas organization would be more effective and influential than OPEC. At the very same time, Arkady Dvorkovich, head of the expert department of the Russian presidential executive staff, gave assurances that the Kremlin was not going to form any gas OPEC. Meanwhile, relations between Gazprom and the European Union deteriorated sharply and the boogeyman began to take on visible form. At the beginning of last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly supported the idea of an international gas cartel while speaking with the Emir of Qatar. Then Russia got busy with preparations for the forum of gas exporting countries in Doha and even became host of the next forum. Only the most impressionable of American congressmen were frightened by these threats. No one made any serious concessions to Gazprom, even though gas prices rose. Now history has gone so far that Gazprom and the Russian government are writing the charter for a new organization in an urgent rush. The date of the Moscow forum is approaching fast and it is time to have potential projects ready. The most serious problems come up here. Moscow cannot answer the main question – Is the project commercial or political? It is not clear how the new organization can be used to settle economic issues. The main participants in the forum are the current or future competitors with Gazprom in a number of issues – pipeline routes, division of the market for liquefied natural gas, and so on. The formation of a gas OPEC is unlikely to bring political benefits. No one argues the fact that Gazprom has become an important player on the diplomatic field. They await the pronouncements of Gazprom official spokesman Sergey Kupriyanov in Kiev and Tbilisi with as much or more seriousness as they listen to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The level of relations with Ukraine, Georgia and the EU allows us evaluate the effectiveness of “gas diplomacy.” Paradoxically, it seems that Russia has the power to ruin the Moscow forum, for only rumors f a gas OPEC are in its interest, not a real organization.

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