CENTRAL ASIA TODAY: A NEW WAVE OF WATER AND ENERGY COOPERATION AND PIPELINE ARCHITECTURE
Sergey ZHILTSOV, Lidiya PARKHOMCHIK, Dmitriy SLISOVSKIY, Nikolay MEDVEDEV
Sergey Zhiltsov, D.Sc. (Political Science), Head of the Department of Political Science and Political Philosophy of the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (Moscow, Russian Federation)
Lidiya Parkhomchik, Senior Research Fellow, Eurasian Research Institute (Almaty, Kazakhstan)
Dmitriy Slisovskiy, D.Sc. (Hist.), Professor of the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN) (Moscow, Russian Federation)
Nikolay Medvedev, D.Sc. (Political Science), Professor, Faculty of Humanitarian and Social Sciences, Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN) (Moscow, Russian Federation)
In recent years, Central Asian countries have been demonstrating a readiness to widen their involvement in regional cooperation and interaction in the water, energy and transportation spheres. These trends have remained neglected far too long, which, as could be expected, had a negative impact on the regional economies. Under the pressure of mounting economic problems and the difficult situation, these countries had no choice but to revise their approaches to cooperation. Certain extra-regional states have developed significant interest in the region’s countries; today they want a wider presence there, first and foremost, in the projects targeted at the diversification of supplies of its hydrocarbon reserves to external markets. Generally, the Central Asian countries expected the more extensive pipeline architecture to consolidate their positions; allow to implement their social and economic projects; create new jobs; open new doors to Central Asian oil and gas exporters and radically change the regional balance of power. In anticipation, they doubled their efforts in extraction and export of hydrocarbons.
These hopes were not justified. Their dependence on extra-regional players as the final consumers or transit territories was not reduced. The new pipelines have, however, destroyed Russia’s monopoly on hydrocarbon exports from the region; it was replaced by Iran and China, which relied on the mechanism of price formation and the volumes of oil and gas they bought from the region’s countries to put pressure on them. The Central Asian oil and gas exporters continued to widen the pipeline network to somehow reduce their dependence on neighbors.
The Central Asian states are revising their old approaches to the use of water; the confrontation of the 1990s is receding into the past to be replaced with new initiatives: wider bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the use of water resources of the transboundary rivers and coordination of positions. The changed positions are easily explained by the problems inherited from the Soviet past, which were gradually accumulating and swept under the carpet. In the last few decades they grew even more acute: the countries in the upper reaches of the regional rivers can barely survive the acute shortage of energy in winter, while those in the lower reaches are aware of an acute shortage of water in the summer, when it is especially needed for agriculture. According to different sources, after 2020-2025 the water shortage in the region will become absolute: the total amount of water consumed in the Central Asian countries will reach a level at which industrial enterprises will have no choice but to use less water. This will do nothing good to the regional economy and regional agriculture. Demographic growth and climate change will intensify the negative trends. Glaciers and snow-covered areas have contracted, which threatens the runoff of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya. The current desire to arrive at compromises and take the interests of all countries into account is explained by the problems that are piling up in the water and energy sphere mainly because the use of the transboundary rivers’ water remains unregulated.