In a ceremony in Bishkek, top government officials in Kyrgyzstan and the head of Russian energy giant Gazprom, Alexei Miller, this week oversaw the launch of an overhauled gas pipeline in Kyrgyzstan that carries gas from Uzbekistan’s Bukhara region to Kazakhstan.
The renovation has doubled a section of the 111-kilometer route’s annual throughput capacity to 3.9 billion cubic meters of gas.
Miller, whose company owns Kyrgyzstan’s gas pipeline network, described the event as one of great significance for Central Asia as whole.
“The reconstruction of the Kyrgyz section of the Bukhara Gas-Bearing Province – Tashkent – Bishkek – Almaty gas pipeline has taken us to the next level in terms of reliability of gas supplies not only to the north of the Kyrgyz Republic, but also to the south of Kazakhstan,” he said on August 29.
Other than the 1,650 households or so Kyrgyz households now linked to the gas distribution grid as part of a broader project to improve energy infrastructure, an obvious immediate beneficiary of these developments will be freshly appointed Prime Minister Sapar Isakov. He took an active part in inauguration events and this achievement, among others, will indubitably be used in future as a testament to his leadership skills.
Speaking at the pipeline launch ceremony, Isakov noted that the price of gas has been falling in recent years, even when taking inflation into account.
The plaudits should by rights go to Gazprom, however, which has spent around $1 billion on Kyrgyzstan over the past 10 years. The Russian state-owned company outright brought its Kyrgyz analogue, Kyrgyzgaz, for the symbolic amount of $1 in July 2013.
Kyrgyzstan has always sourced its gas from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, but Gazprom’s purchase of Kyrgyzgaz has given the country considerable peace of mind, given the implied Kremlin backing that implies.
The late Uzbek president, Islam Karimov, regularly used gas supplies as a tool for applying diplomatic pressure on his neighbors, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which were often unable to pay their debts in time. Uzbekistan cut off gas supplies to Tajikistan in 2012 and to Kyrgyzstan in 2014.
But the time for such bullying looks to have passed.
Indeed, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is braced to make a visit to Kyrgyzstan on September 6 for talks that will include energy and trade on the agenda.