|Ukraine Cuts Dependence on Russian Nuclear Fuel, Moves Away From Coal
Westinghouse will extend nuclear fuel deliveries to seven of Ukraine’s fifteen nuclear power units to 2021–2025, in line with a contract signed between this firm and Ukraine’s state-owned nuclear power company Energoatom. Deliveries to Ukraine under the new deal are to begin immediately after the current contract expires in 2020. Moreover, fuel components for local nuclear power plants (NPP) will be produced not only in the United States, but also in Ukraine, with assembly to be made at a Westinghouse facility in Sweden. Energoatom President Yury Nedashkovsky said his company is the world’s only operator of the Soviet-designed VVER-1000 reactors to have fully diversified its sources of fuel supply (Energoatom.kiev.ua, January 29).
Westinghouse started nuclear fuel deliveries to Ukraine in 2005, first to only one reactor at Yuzhnoukrainsk NPP. The share of Russia’s TVEL, which used to be the monopoly nuclear fuel supplier to Ukraine, has been gradually shrinking. The war waged by Russia against Ukraine since 2014 prompted Kyiv to more rapidly diversify its energy sources, notably natural gas and nuclear fuel, away from Russian suppliers. Kyiv has not been buying gas from Russia since 2015 (see EDM, January 20, 2016), and it expects that the share of nuclear fuel supplied by Westinghouse will grow further to 55 percent this year, from the 50 percent reached last year (Interfax, December 21, 2017).
Meanwhile, the share of NPPs in Ukraine’s power generation grew to 55.1 percent last year, from 52.3 percent in 2016, at the expense of thermal power plants (TPP), which have been short of coal because of the war and the blockade imposed by Kyiv on the areas in the eastern coal region of Donbas, controlled by Moscow-backed proxies since 2014 (see EDM,February 28, 2017; May 17, 2017; Interfax, January 26, 2018). For comparison, the share of nuclear power before the war, in 2013, equaled 43.1 percent.
The share of NPPs may decline in the future, as the role of renewables in Ukraine’s energy basket is set to grow (see EDM, October 13, 2017). For the time being, however, Kyiv is increasing the lifespan of Ukrainian NPPs; and the construction of two more nuclear power units should be completed in the medium term. Energoatom extended the lifespan of two nuclear power units last year, and similar decisions are likely to be taken on two more reactors in 2018. Last October, Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman announced that the construction of power units No. 3 and No. 4 at the Khmelnytsky NPP would be resumed in 2021. In order to raise funds, Kyiv approved the project Energy Bridge Ukraine–European Union, which provides for extending a transmission line linking power unit No. 2 at Khmelnytsky to Poland, in order to export more power to the EU (Kyiv Post, October 20, 2017).
Meanwhile, because of the Donbas blockade, Ukraine’s coal production plunged 15 percent to 35 million tons last year (Interfax, January 9). This prompted Kyiv to boost coal imports, ironically mainly from Russia, but also from the United States, South Africa and Australia. As Moscow has not relinquished its hold on Donbas, Kyiv is determined to continue the blockade, which prompted the owners of domestic TPPs burning anthracite coal—the state-controlled Centerenergo and the private firm DTEK—to start converting their plants to use alternative and cheaper G-grade coal. Meanwhile, anthracite consumption by Ukrainian TPPs almost halved in 2017. Ukraine is going to stop using anthracite altogether from 2019, so the share of thermal power in domestic electricity generation is likely to decline further, from the current 30 percent or so (Reform.energy, December 21, 2017).
Ukraine lags behind the rest of Europe in the development of unconventional energy sources (wind, solar, biomass). They accounted for only 1.2 percent of national power production in 2017 (Reform.energy, January 26, 2018). Such a small share is partly due to losing solar power capacities in sunny Crimea, which Russia annexed in four years ago. Nevertheless, Kyiv has set the ambitious goal of increasing the share of renewable energy to 25 percent by 2035, hoping to attract foreign investors, in line with the recently updated Energy Strategy of the energy ministry (Mev.gov.ua, accessed February 6). Kyiv pins its hopes on the 2,600-square-kilometer Chernobyl exclusion zone. The Ukrainian parliament last July passed a law facilitating the development of green energy there. China is also mulling investing some $1 billion in a big solar power project near Chernobyl, the Ukrainian environment ministry announced last October. Wind power looks potentially even more promising. The Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences and the German Heinrich Boell foundation have calculated that the share of wind power in total generation may grow to 45 percent in Ukraine by 2050, and the total share of renewable energy may even exceed 90 percent.
Ukraine has made great strides away from energy dependence on Russia over the last 5–7 years. Ironically, it was prompted to do so by Russia itself, as a result of the unjust gas contract from 2009, Moscow’s threats to punish Ukraine for preparing a free trade deal with the EU in 2012–2013, and due to the annexation of Crimea and war in the Donbas, which has raged on since 2014. Diversification will thus continue to drive Kyiv’s energy strategy for years and decades to come.
Tajikistan, Most Muslim Country in Central Asia, Struggles to Rein In Islam
In the last month alone, local authorities closed almost 100 mosques in the northern part of Tajikistan, the latest effort by Dushanbe to control Islam in the most fervently Muslim country in Central Asia. Yet, this campaign is exceedingly likely to backfire by driving both imams who have lost their jobs as well as their former parishioners and followers to go underground. Indeed, this move may be at least as counterproductive as Dushanbe’s decision two years ago to call home the 6,000 Tajikistani Muslims studying in madrassas (Muslim religious schools) and Islamic universities abroad and then refusing to allow them to work in government-registered mosques. And that entire situation was further exacerbated by the fact that the government has restricted higher Islamic education inside the country to a single Muslim center.
By systematically going after mosques and places of Islamic study, Dushanbe is in large measure recapitulating the unsuccessful Soviet approach, dramatically expanding the Muslim underground in the most Muslim country in Central Asia. As a result, at least some of those Muslim faithful pushed to the shadows could ultimately link up with Islamist radicals coming into the country from Afghanistan, destabilizing the impoverished country still further. If that happens—and there is some evidence that it already is (see below)—the government in Dushanbe and those who want to block the export of Islamist radicalism from Afghanistan are likely to suffer a major defeat and possibly even the overthrow of the secular regime in Tajikistan. In large measure, they will have only themselves to blame for such a loss.
At the end of January, officials in the Tajikistani city of Isfara (Sughd Region) announced that they had closed 45 mosques for failing to maintain “sanitary norms.” Apparently, these former places of worship will be converted into clubs and other social institutions (News.tj, January 25). Then, officials in the neighboring Ghafurov District announced that they were closing 45 mosques supposedly because some of them were built too close together—Tajikistani law bans having two religious facilities within 50 meters of one another—and transforming them into social centers as well (News.tj, January 30).
Officials insist that a sufficient number of mosques will remain open. In the case of the latter closings, the Ghafurov District, which has 360,000 residents, will still have 136 mosques—one for every 2,700 people (Fergananews.com, January 30). The authorities claim there are “about 4,000” officially registered mosques throughout Tajikistan, of which 370 are so-called “cathedral mosques” of significant size. Moreover, according to the government, that there are some 3,914 imams, or one for every 2,210 people in the country, making Tajikistan the most Islamic state in Central Asia by either of these measures (Fergananews.com, November 2, 2017).
But those numbers are deceptive. On the one hand, the government exercises tight control over both mosques and imams. All of the latter are appointed by the government-controlled Council of the Ulema and the State Committee for Religious Affairs. The imams are paid out of government funds, a miserly 800 som ($90) a month. The government also has banned from serving as an imam in official mosques anyone who has received any theological education abroad. This has dramatically limited the number of people in the country who can serve—there is only one Muslim academy in all of Tajikistan, and it is small. It has also diminished the quality of those serving—many Tajikistani imams do not know Arabic or even basic prayers. Furthermore, the government decides on the subjects of the homilies of the imams and regularly distributes to them a special brochure of “recommended” texts. Finally, the country’s security services have set up video surveillance within and around all mosques in the capitals and major cities and many of the mosques in smaller towns as well (Fergananews.com, January 30). It would seem that the authorities have things under control as much as possible.
But on the other hand, there is an alternative Islam, one that in Soviet times Western scholars like Alexandre Bennigsen called “unofficial” or “underground” Islam. It consists of all Islamic practice that the government does not allow. And as Bennigsen showed, the more tightly the Soviet authorities restricted what “official” mosques and imams could do, the larger and more vital became this second face of Islam (Alexandre Bennigsen, Islam in the Soviet Union, London, 1967; Bennigsen, Islamic Threat to the Soviet State, London, 1983).
The reasons for evoking that legacy when discussing present-day Tajikistan are numerous: First, Tajikistan in the 1990s suffered a bitter civil war in which an Islamic party played a major role. That party has now been banned (see EDM, September 11, 2015); but its supporters remain not only in the population but among the military and the civilian bureaucracy (RFE/RL, December 1, 2015). The large number of Tajiks who identify as imams but who cannot work in official mosques because they received their training abroad or because, as now, their mosques have been closed are ready, willing and able to lead those who also do not feel comfortable in the denatured Islam that Dushanbe permits (Emmanuel Karagiannis, “The Challenge of Radical Islam in Tajikistan,” Nationalities Papers, 34:1, 2006, pp. 1–20.). And the Tajiks of northern Afghanistan, many of whom are Islamists, have made inroads in Tajikistan in recent months as have Tajik Islamic State fighters now returning home (Asia Times, February 4, 2018).
Many in Moscow and the West have praised Dushanbe for its moves to control Islamist radicalism. But they have generally failed to understand that by its actions against Islam, the Tajikistani government is radicalizing far more of its citizens than it is reining in.
Difficult Geopolitics of the Caspian Complicate Potential Energy Projects
The foreign ministers of the five littoral Caspian states—Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran—met in Moscow, on December 5, 2017, to try to finalize an agreement on the legal status of the Caspian Sea. After the talks, the Azerbaijani and Russian representatives, Elmar Mammadyarov and Sergei Lavrov, respectively, praised the narrowing of the five country’s positions (Azernews.az, December 5, 2017). However, a final settlement of such a complex historical issue does not imply a solution to all regional disputes. For instance, since the collapse of Soviet Union, the littoral states’ divergent positions on the Caspian’s delineation—notably claims by Iran and Turkmenistan—have challenged Azerbaijan’s juridical ownership of its offshore energy fields (see EDM,February 1, 2006; September 14, 2010).
Following the ministerial meeting in Moscow, the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied any change in Iran’s position over the demarcation amidst continued intra-regional disagreements, notably with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan (Ifpnews.com, December 15, 2017). According to Azerbaijan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov, the negotiations with Iran and Turkmenistan over controversial oil and natural gas fields in the Caspian have yet to bear fruit, but added that exploitation of those fields will be solved in accordance with international law (Minval.az, Report.az, December 6, 2017). It is not certain if Ashgabat and Tehran would accept the “modified median line” principle and, accordingly, drop their claims to Azerbaijani oil/gas fields (see EDM, May 8, 2017). Therefore, these disputes might need to be settled through bilateral dialogue but will likely not be reflected in the new convention on the Caspian settlement. Tehran and Ashgabat’s prior maximalist position left them isolated from various planned joint energy projects in the Caspian. But unlike Iran’s recent inclination toward joint collaboration with Azerbaijan on certain offshore energy fields (Trend, February 23, 2016), Turkmenistan has declined to pursue a similar approach to disputed fields.
Still, the largely positive post-ministerial statements raised optimism related to the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline (TCP) project, which for decades has been hindered by the disputes over the delamination of the Caspian Sea. Under discussion since the late-1990s, the TCP would annually carry 30 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Turkmenistani gas to Europe via the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC—across Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey), to lessen the European Union’s dependence on Russia (Trend, December 6, 2017). But even after the new convention on the Caspian’s settlement, Russia and Iran will probably still oppose the TCP, which they hitherto succeeded in blocking by subjecting the pipeline’s construction to the approval by all five littoral states (Commonspace.eu, December 19, 2017). Russia’s objection is especially peculiar since Moscow and Baku have already bilaterally solved the delimitation of the Caspian’s northern part, while the TCP’s construction would not pass through Russian waters. Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan stick to the principle that littoral states have the sovereign right to build infrastructure freely in their national sectors before the Caspian Sea’s final status is defined (seeEDM, May 8, 2017). And Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Khalafov has emphasized that the construction of the gas pipeline will be agreed by the sides whose sectors it traverses. Russia and Iran’s opposition is driven by the fact that Turkmenistani gas exports via the TCP would circumvent them as transit countries and be detrimental to their market share in Europe and Turkey. Furthermore, the TCP would help further consolidate Azerbaijan’s geopolitical importance and bring more foreign energy companies to the Caspian (Payvand.com, January 8, 2018).
Russia’s insistence that construction of the TCP would negatively affect the ecological health of the Caspian is less credible now, following the construction of Nord Stream and Turkish Stream (TS) under Baltic and Black Sea, respectively (Trend, May 18, 2017; August 3, 2017). Furthermore, each Caspian state has been, hitherto, developing offshore oil/gas fields in its national sector without the consent of other littoral states.
Russia’s real opposition to the TCP is most likely linked to that pipeline competing with its Turkish Stream pipeline to Turkey. Therefore, Gazprom has accelerated the realization of TS to thwart the TCP, like it did earlier with the construction of Blue Stream. Russia understands that the completion of the TCP—thus combining Azerbaijani and Turkmenistan gas volumes destined to Europe—would render TS redundant. Similarly, TS’s early completion will undermine the geo-economic significance of the TCP. Russia, instead, wants to arrange the resale of Turkmenistan’s gas in Europe at self-defined prices, thus cutting into any volumes that would be contracted to the TCP. A decade ago, Russia wanted to apply the same strategy toward Azerbaijan by purchasing gas from the Shah-Deniz field to decrease the SGC’s promised gas volumes (EurasiaNet, July 2, 2008). Russia likely plans to resume its suspended imports of gas from Turkmenistan, promising joint gas exploration and dedicated transit via Russia to Europe in exchange for Ashgabat pledging not to commit to the TCP. Due to its financial troubles, Turkmenistan may opt for this rather than waiting for the TCP to be built (Commonspace.eu, December 19, 2017). Myrat Archaev, the head of Turkmengaz, declared late last year that Turkmenistan can ship gas via existing pipelines across Russian territory to Eastern European countries (Hronikatm.com, November 3, 2017). Meanwhile, tensions with Tehran over debt prevent Ashgabat from diversifying its energy export routes in the southwestern direction, thus increasing Turkmenistan’s dependence on the Chinese route (CACI Analyst, November 15, 2017).
Chronic impasse over the Caspian’s status has contributed to naval buildups. This militarization, however, never resulted in any massive clash between the littoral states, with cooperation on common security being the norm. Navy vessels frequently pay friendly visits to each other’s Caspian ports and participate in joint military exercises. Russia’s naval development has focused strongly on boosting capabilities to protect offshore oil/gas facilities from potential illegal armed groups. At the same time, Russia and Iran actively push the other littoral states to support the inadmissibility of “military presence of non-Caspian states in the Caspian.” Thus for Moscow, its greatest security-related preoccupation is not the TCP but the emergence of a Western military force in the Caspian (see EDM, July 25, 2016; November 2, 2017;EurasiaNet, December 5, 2017).
One would expect Turkmenistan to show greater interest in the TCP at the moment, due to the country’s urgent need to diversify its gas exports, replace the revenue streams lost following the suspension of gas exports to Iran and Russia, and overcome its dependence on China as a customer. Nonetheless, the Turkmenistani government itself is not willing to carry out the construction of the pipeline nor bear the financial costs (see EDM, March 11, 2015). For all the reasons detailed above, including the absence of coherent Western support, prospects for a Trans-Caspian Pipeline remain remote.