Turkmens Peeved at Ukrainian Pipe Snub

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan -- Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday scoffed at Ukraine's proposal to build a new pipeline that would carry Turkmen natural gas to European markets, saying other nations should consult it before making such statements.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said on a trip to Brussels this week that her country could serve as a transit point for a pipeline that would deliver Turkmen and other Central Asian gas to European countries. She said the pipeline, known as White Stream, could cross the Caspian and the Black seas.

The Turkmen Foreign Ministry said it knew nothing about the project and expected other nations to consult it on future pipelines before making statements about possible routes.

"Official notices about projects to build international pipelines are supposed to come from energy-producing nations after holding relevant talks and consultations with other interested parties," the ministry said in a statement.

Turkmenistan is the second-biggest gas producer in the former Soviet Union after Russia, and its gas resources are playing an increasingly important role in the geopolitics of the region. Russia controls the only export routes for Turkmenistan's gas and the main pipeline for Kazakh oil exports.

Russia is already the world's No. 1 natural gas exporter, and it would further strengthen its clout by maintaining a monopoly on the transit of Turkmen and Kazakh exports to Europe. Ukraine is currently the main transit country for Russian and Central Asian gas flowing to Europe, but Russia plans to build alternate pipelines under the Baltic and Black seas.

Concerned about growing dependence on Russian energy supplies, the European Union has sought to diversify supply routes by mulling over potential routes for Turkmen and other Central Asian gas exports that would bypass Russia.

The Kremlin last month dealt a stinging blow to such hopes by signing a deal with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan for those countries' Caspian Sea gas supplies to flow through Russia -- draining the main potential source for the European Union-backed prospective Nabucco pipeline.

And earlier this month, it signed a deal with Bulgaria for a prospective gas pipeline to cross its territory to carry Russian gas further on to Europe.

To date, there have been no independent audits of Turkmenistan's gas reserves, although the CIA estimates that the country has more than 2 trillion cubic meters of proven natural gas reserves.