Russia: An Energy Superpower?

January, 2008

As Vladimir Putin nears the end of his second term as Russian president, it is clear that energy exports have become a major component of a resurgent Russia's foreign policy. According to the conventional wisdom, Russia's vast resources make it a superpower to be reckoned with. Not only is it a major supplier of natural gas to the states of the former Soviet Union, it sells oil and natural gas to Europe and it has made new contract commitments for both oil and gas to China. Additionally, as the January 2006 cut-off of gas to Ukraine, the January 2007 oil and gas cut-off to Belarus, and Gazprom's threat (again) to Ukraine in the wake of the September 2007 parliamentary elections indicate, Russia is willing to use its resources for political purposes.

The conventional wisdom continues that none of this is surprising. Putin acceded to the Russian presidency resolved to restore Russia's superpower status and to use energy to that end. The Russian Federation's Energy Strategy, dated August 28, 2003, formally states that Russia's natural resources should be a fundamental element in Moscow's diplomacy and that Russia's position in global energy markets should be strengthened. In his own dissertation, Putin argued that the energy sector should be guided by the state and used to promote Russia's national interests. And, the rector of the Mining Institute in which Putin wrote his dissertation and currently one of his energy advisors wrote: "In the specific circumstances the world finds itself in today, the most important resources are hydrocarbons ... They're the main instruments in our hands -- particularly Putin's -- and our strongest argument in geopolitics."

Yet, the conventional wisdom is at best only partially accurate. When Putin and other Russian officials refer to Russia as an energy superpower, they seem to mean a country that possesses a bounty of energy and will use its resources to ensure Moscow's influence on the world's stage. In contrast, the true picture of Russia's energy resources and the attempted politicization of their uses is far more nuanced and complex. Russia's energy policies -- resource and infrastructure development and its use of the energy weapon thus far -- raise major questions about Russia's energy superpower status.

Energy Blackmail

The January 2006 cut-off of natural gas supplies to Ukraine made headlines. The reporting indicated that Russia was using energy to punish Kyiv for its 2004 Orange Revolution and that Gazprom, the state-owned natural gas company, wanted to gain control of Ukraine's pipeline infrastructure. Energy has been a contentious issue between Moscow and Kyiv since the Soviet collapse, but in December 2005, Gazprom escalated tensions when it demanded that Ukraine pay world market rates for its gas. The government in Kyiv asked for a phased-in rate hike, but Russia instead cut off gas to Ukraine, resulting in serious downstream disruptions. Under intense international pressure, a deal was quickly made: A shadowy intermediary, RusUkrEnergo, would purchase 17 billion cubic meters of gas from Gazprom, at $230 per thousand cubic meters, blend it with cheaper gas from Turkmenistan, and sell it at a guaranteed price of $95 per thousand cubic meters. Steady price increases have occurred since then.

The January 2007 stoppages to Belarus began with Gazprom demanding a steep price increase, with steady rises thereafter to world market rates; in addition, Gazprom demanded 50 percent ownership of Belarus's gas pipeline network. As for oil, Russia initiated export duties on oil sold to Belarus. (Prior to January 2007, Russian oil had been piped to Belarus duty free; however, Belarus garnered huge profits by selling refined products to Europe.) Belarus retaliated by charging Russia an export fee and reducing the amount of oil flowing to Poland. Russia then blocked all oil exports. Again under international pressure, oil flowed freely within days. In both cases, Russia appeared to have made short term gains: most obviously, Gazprom won the price wars. Moreover, many claim that Russia seemingly influenced the outcome of the March 2006 Ukrainian parliamentary elections in which Viktor Yanukovich, the loser during the Orange Revolution, became prime minister. In Belarus, Minsk was forced to recognize Moscow's claim to a large share of the profits from the sale of refined products and to agree to a debt-for-equity swap of part of its pipeline system. What makes the Belarus case so interesting is that Moscow was clearly willing both to risk another disruption of supplies to Western Europe and to endure damage to its prestige in order to gain major control over Belarus.

Beyond the former Soviet states, the two crises highlighted European vulnerabilities to supply disruptions and raised the possibility that Russia might use its resources to influence European policies. Soviet/Russian supply to Europe began in the 1970s and has continued virtually without disruption until two years ago. Currently, 43 percent of European energy consumption is oil, while only 24 percent is gas. Yet, gas utilization will rise as Europe limits it use of coal. Christian Cleutinx, director of the EU-Russia Energy Dialogue, estimates that EU's gas requirements will increase by 2020 to approximately 200 million metric tons/year. Of that, 75 percent will be imported, mostly from Russia. Table 1 indicates the current European dependence. In addition to increasing its European market share, Gazprom has sought downstream infrastructure investment opportunities in Europe. Concerned, the European Union is looking both to limit the ability of non-EU companies to purchase distribution and refining assets in its territory and to force Russia/Gazprom to open the latter's pipelines to outsiders. In an effort to enhance competitiveness, recent draft regulations mandate separating resources from transmission infrastructure. The proposed rules have strong implications for Gazprom, which could not own controlling stakes in distribution networks and would have to offer reciprocal access to its domestic pipelines.


How Much Does Russia Have?

Even if Russia were to increase energy, particularly gas, supplies to Europe and successfully complete new oil and gas infrastructure to China, the question remains: can Russia meet all of its export commitments? Most experts estimate that Russia has 60 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, largely located in western Siberia. In the initial post-Soviet period, oil production fell precipitously, but output has steadily increased -- during 2005-2006, Russia became the second-largest producer of oil after Saudi Arabia. As exports have grown, Russian domestic consumption of oil has declined. Recent data indicate that Russia exports approximately 4 million barrels per day; of that, almost 1.3 million barrels per day are piped through the Druzhba Pipeline, which traverses Belarus and Ukraine. Due to the multiple crises with these two former Soviet republics, Russia is currently building additional pipelines to bypass Belarus, Ukraine, and the Baltic states, and is considering other projects that would eliminate the need to ship oil from Novorossiisk through the Bosphorus to Europe. Despite these significant plans to increase export capacity, it is estimated that many mature fields are post-peak and that future production will grow at only between 1.5 to 2.5 percent, derived in large measure from new projects in Sakhalin.

Russia holds the world's largest reserves of natural gas, approximately 1680 trillion cubic feet, and it is also the largest exporter. Lacking liquefaction technology, Russia exports all of its natural gas through pressurized pipelines. Production has remained relatively flat overall, increasing by only 1-2 percent per year; moreover, Gazprom has invested little in new fields and its three largest fields, which produce 70 percent of output, have suffered annual decreased production. Company officials are hopeful that new fields, such as the recently acquired stake in Sakhalin II and the Shtokman fields, will bolster production.

Thus far the discussion has not centered on domestic consumption and supplies, which are crucial factors in judging Russia's ability to meet its forward contracts. Currently, more than half of Russia's energy consumption is gas; however, domestic gas prices are effectively subsidized. The government acknowledges that prices will increase, but Putin has declared that even at peak they will equal no more than two-thirds of international prices. Low prices do not promote conservation: in 2006, experts estimated that by 2010 domestic gas consumption would rise by 24 billion cubic meters (bcm), or by 6-7 percent per year. Herman Gref, minister of economic development, predicted likely domestic shortages of 5-6 bcm. In comments on October 31, 2006, he noted that "Russia is encountering some real restrictions on economic growth due to a shortage of energy resources." These forecasts were seconded by ministry predictions that output would grow by only 0.9 percent in 2007 and 0.6 percent in 2008.

Estimates vary regarding the extent of Gazprom's gas deficit, but most analysts agree that Gazprom will need both to develop new fields and to import gas from Central Asia in order to meet its contractual obligations. With regard to new fields, the story of the Shtokman fields is illustrative. The fields hold 3.7 trillion cubic meters of gas, but the location north of the Arctic Circle renders them technologically challenging. A year ago, Gazprom withdrew the international tender for the fields, opting instead to develop them by itself. At the time, the decision seemed congruent with other actions to ensure state ownership of energy resources, but it also indicated that Gazprom had decided to rely on new pipelines instead of liquefaction technology. Gazprom apparently rethought its position and in July 2007 reopened the tender, ultimately awarding 25 percent to the French company, Total, and more recently an additional 24 percent to Norway's StatoilHydro. According to Russian press accounts, these new agreements represent open acknowledgment that Gazprom lacked the ability and technological know-how to develop the fields on its own. It can also be seen as recognition that export via new pipelines, instead of in liquid form, would limit the market for the gas from Shtokman.

Russia has been aggressive in trying to lock up long-term Central Asian commitments -- especially from Turkmenistan. For the moment, Russia and Gazprom control Turkmenistan's exports, mostly through Soviet era pipelines, and Turkmenistan will export about 2.1 to 2.5 billion cubic feet to Gazprom in 2007. In May 2007, it seemed that Gazprom and Russia had secured their goal: the new Turkmen president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, along with his Kazakh and Russian counterparts, announced a new gas pipeline along the Caspian coast to connect with the Gazprom grid. And in mid-October, at a Caspian Sea summit, Russia made a bid to limit the abilities of the other Caspian littoral states to export via non-Russian pipelines.

Gazprom's plan, however, may be delayed, if not thwarted, by the apparent determination of the new Turkmen government to explore export options. President Berdymukhammedov postponed until mid-December the final agreement for the Caspian coastal pipeline. The deal, championed personally by Putin, was signed only after Gazporm agreed to a thirty percent increase in the price it was willing to pay for Turkmen gas. Nevertheless, despite the new tripartite arrangement, other choices remain possible. Prior to the October 2007 Caspian summit in Teheran, the British minister of state for energy, Malcolm Wicks, traveled to Turkmenistan to explore new energy agreements and Berdymukhammedov visited the U.S. and held meetings with several Western energy company officials. The Turkmen president has announced renewed interest in the U.S.-proposed trans-Caspian gas pipeline, a project rejected by the mercurial late President Saparmurat Niyazov, and is moving forward on a deal with China for the construction of a pipeline east. Interviews in October in Ashgabat, the capital, suggest that the Turkmen government will announce a significant deal with a major Western energy company in the near future. In mid-November, the Times of London leaked a report that the U.K. and Turkmenistan had signed what one official called a "protocol of intentions" to allow British companies to operate in the Turkmen energy sector. Although the size of Turkmenistan's reserves is uncertain, it seems increasingly probable that there will be less gas available for Gazprom in the future.

Is Russia an Energy Superpower?

That Russia is destined to remain a major energy supplier to its immediate neighbors and to the rest of the world is not at issue. What is an issue, however, is whether Russia's resource development strategy is adequate to meet future demand. As argued, Russia has not invested in refurbishing gas infrastructure and seems to be relying on new finds such as Sakhalin and Shtokman to bolster supplies. Yet work on Shtokman has not begun. It is also clear that Turkmenistan is no longer willing to be a source of cheap gas for Gazprom. There is also the question of whether the networks of supply will be solely commercial or whether these ties will be politicized. As states such as Armenia and Moldova have succumbed to Gazprom's pressures, there are signs that other states are moving cautiously to develop non-Russian options. In January 2007, Gazprom demanded huge price increases from Azerbaijan and Georgia. Azerbaijan, which used to import Russian gas despite its own vast resources, declined a Gazprom price increase and sped up the development of its own infrastructure. It also cut oil exports via the Russian-owned pipeline to Novorossiisk. Simultaneously, an agreement among Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey gave Georgia additional gas from the Shah Deniz field in order to make up for the shortfall. Other gas-rich states also seem ready to assist Georgia. At a March 2007 meeting between Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and his Kazakh counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbaev, it was announced that Kazakhstan was considering building a refinery in Georgia.



In other news:

Russia Creates a $32 Billion Sovereign Wealth Fund

Russia has split its oil proceeds into two funds and cleared the way for one to invest in foreign stocks and bonds, officials said Thursday. But actual investments are not expected to begin until fall at the earliest. The move sets up an investment pool with $32 billion, rivaling big American hedge funds and offering another sign of the dizzying wealth these days of oil-producing countries like Russia. Officials here are already moving to address possible concerns from regulators in the United States and Europe about a government entity investing on the stock exchanges with such large resources.

A deputy finance minister, Dmitry V. Pankin, offered assurances in an interview Thursday that the new fund would serve purely economic goals. “What are they worried about, foreign investment coming to their country?” Mr. Pankin said of critics in Western countries. “They should not worry, they should hope.” Over four years of rising crude oil prices, Russia accumulated $157 billion in its oil proceeds fund, one of 40 or so sovereign wealth funds worldwide with a total of $2.5 trillion under management. One of the new funds, now called the Reserve Fund, will retain the initial purpose of insuring the Russian budget against a steep fall in oil prices. It will hold $125 billion and be maintained at a size roughly 10 percent of Russia’s gross domestic product, as it is now. The other, the Fund for National Well-Being, with $32 billion, is intended to buoy the pension system as the Russian population ages and the share of those working shrinks. Under a law passed last spring, the new fund can be invested in foreign stocks and bonds.

Yet at least until September, Mr. Pankin said, the finance ministry will retain the money in a central bank account that pays interest at a rate equivalent to the returns of foreign government bonds — the same conservative investment the government chooses for the Reserve Fund. “The law allows us wider possibilities for investment,” Mr. Pankin said. “But for now, we don’t use these possibilities.” A more aggressive investment strategy is being held up, he said, by a lack of agreement within the government on the fund’s investment horizon — when the money will be withdrawn for use in the budget. By September, he said, the cabinet can be expected to approve a strategy, opening the door for possible overseas investments.

Russia’s old fund had returns of 10.75 percent in dollar terms based on the interest rates paid by the nation’s central bank, mirroring returns on American and European government bonds. The new fund represents about 7 percent of Russia’s total gold and hard-currency reserves, and it forms a large and concentrated pool of capital. A deputy American Treasury secretary, Robert M. Kimmitt, wrote in the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs that sovereign wealth funds should be welcomed to the United States as stable long-term investors that help increase stock prices and reduce volatility. He noted risks, including the possibility that foreign intelligence agencies would provide nonpublic information to the managers of such funds to assist their investing decisions.

Russian investing has already encountered criticism in European Union countries. The state-owned natural gas monopoly Gazprom is buying gas pipelines and storage facilities in Europe; officials there have suggested that the company was operating from foreign policy motives rather than economic ones when it shut off gas to Ukraine in 2006 after the election of a pro-Western government. Gazprom said it was a purely commercial matter. Mr. Pankin said the finance ministry had not yet decided whether it would hire an outside fund manager. That has not stopped banks from making proposals, he said. A manager will be chosen only when the fund begins investing in corporate debt and securities, he said, as the ministry does not need assistance in buying government bonds.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Dear reader,

Arevordi will be taking a sabbatical to tend to personal matters. New blog commentaries will henceforth be posted on an irregular basis. The comments board however will continue to be moderated on a regular basis.

The last 20 years or so has also helped me see Russia as the last front against scourges of Westernization, Globalism, American expansionism, Zionism, Islamic extremism and pan-Turkism. I have also come to see Russia as the last hope humanity has for the preservation of classical western civilization, Apostolic Christianity and the traditional nation-state. This realization compelled me to create this blog in 2010. Immediately, this blog became one of the very few voices in the vastness of cyberia that dared to preach about the dangers of Globalism and the Anglo-American-Jewish alliance, and the only voice preaching the strategic importance of Armenia remaining within Russia's orbit. From about 2010 to 2015 I did monthly, at times weekly, commentaries about Russian-Armenian relations and Eurasian geopolitics in general. It was very difficult as I had no assistance in this endeavor. The time I put into this blog therefore came at the expense of work and family. But a powerful feeling inside me urged me to keep going; and I did.

When Armenia finally joined the EEU and integrated its armed forces into Russia's military structures a couple of years ago, I finally felt a deep sense of satisfaction and relaxation, as if a very heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders. I finally felt that my personal mission was accomplished. I therefore felt I could take a step back, as I really needed the rest. Simply put: I have lived to see the institutionalization of Russian-Armenian alliance. Also, I feel more confident now that Armenians are collectively recognizing the strategic importance of Armenia's ties with Russia. Moreover, I feel satisfied knowing that, at least on a subatomic level, I had a hand in the outcome. As a result, I feel a strong sense of mission accomplished. I therefore no longer have the urge to continue as in the past. In other words, the motivational force that had propelled me in previous years has been gradually dissipating because I feel that this blog has lived to see the realization of its stated goal. Going forward, I do not want to write merely for the sake of writing. Also, I do not want to say something if I have nothing important to say. I feel like I have said everything I needed to say. Henceforth, I will post seasonal commentaries about topics I find important. I will however continue moderating the blog's comments section on a regular basis; ultimately because I'm interested in what my readers have to say and also because it's through readers here that I am at times made aware of interesting developments.

To limit clutter in the comments section, I kindly ask all participants of this blog to please keep comments coherent and strictly relevant to the featured topic of discussion. Moreover, please realize that when there are several anonymous visitors posting comments simultaneously, it becomes very confusing (not to mention extremely annoying) trying to figure out who is who and who said what.Therefore, if you are here to engage in conversation, make an observation, express an idea or simply attack me, I ask you to at least use a moniker to identify yourself. Moreover, please appreciate the fact that I have put an enormous amount of information into this blog. In my opinion, most of my blog commentaries and articles, some going back ten-plus years, are in varying degrees relevant to this day and will remain so for a long time to come. Articles in this blog can therefore be revisited by longtime readers and new comers alike. I therefore ask the reader to treat this blog as a depository of important information relating to Eurasian geopolitics, Russian-Armenian relations and humanity's historic fight against the evils of Globalism and Westernization.

Thank you as always for reading.