Russia to Build an Iran-India Gas Pipeline, Empire Loses Again

Russia, Iran and India stick a knife in 20 years of US foreign policy efforts to block a pipeline from Iran to India

For those who follow geopolitics closely you will know something about the IPI pipeline.  IPI stands for Iran-Pakistan-India.  I could write a book detailing the twists and turns of U.S. and Russian foreign policy on the history of the delays to this pipeline.

They stretch back a decade at least.  So to see RT today run the story that:

Moscow and Tehran are about to sign a memorandum of understanding to back a new gas pipeline project, according to Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak.

The countries will build a 1,200-kilometer long pipeline from Iran to India with the Russian energy major Gazprom developing several Iranian deposits along the route of the future pipeline.

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While details are sketchy, it looks like this will not be the classic IPI pipeline that linked Eastern Iran with northern India via the Pakistani port at Gwadar, traversing Baluchistan.

There will, apparently, be an underwater segment that goes through the Persian Gulf.

Hillary and History

While I hate to keep flogging a dead horse, one of the main obstacles to the IPI pipeline of yore was none other than Hillary Clinton.  She was a major shareholder in the company that was promoting the competing (and nowhere near as economically viable) TAPI pipeline — Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India.

The TAPI pipeline was a major U.S. foreign policy objective going back to the Clinton Administration and a priority under Bush the Lesser.  Clinton made it a major focus of her term as Secretary of State to get the TAPI pipeline finished.

But it never happened.  In fact, neither IPI nor TAPI have been built.  TAPI is the main reason for our sanctioning Iran in 2012 and cutting it out of the SWIFT system, not its nuclear program.  After nearly 20 years of wrangling, including invading Afghanistan, TAPI is finally being built. 

Annual capacity of the gas pipeline will be 33 billion cubic meters. Total length of the TAPI will be 1,814 kilometers. The project’s preliminary cost is estimated at $10 billion. The Turkmen government said earlier that the state concern Turkmengas would be the main investor for the TAPI project.

Turkmenistan started constructing its TAPI section in December 2015 and the construction is expected to take three years. Time frame of the Afghan and Pakistani sections’ construction has not been determined yet.

Note that this boondoggle won’t get completed for at least another 7 years, if ever.  It was never viable which was why it was so hard to put a deal together.  In the same way that Iran built its leg of the IPI pipeline during the time of U.S. sanctions, that

Clinton stood to make millions from TAPI and the U.S. devoted the resources of nearly three administrations to its construction.  It is one of the main reasons why we cannot leave Afghanistan.  The costs of the Afghan War are borne on its shoulders as this excerpt from a Wall St. Journal Op-Ed from 2012 makes so clear: (Note this link is to newcentralasia.net now the WSJ, the original 5-year-old article is still behind a paywall)

Washington cannot wait another five years for further action on TAPI. After the U.S. military withdrawal next year, the government of Afghanistan will have few legitimate income streams. TAPI can provide Kabul with hundreds of millions of dollars annually and create an estimated 50,000 jobs for Afghans. It will do so in a way that gives three of the key states in the region—Pakistan, India and Iran—a strategic interest in Afghanistan’s success. Progress on TAPI will also jump-start many of the other trans-Afghan transport projects—including roads and railroads—that are at the heart of America’s “New Silk Road Strategy” for the Afghan economy.

The White House should understand that if TAPI isn’t built, neither U.S. nor U.N. sanctions will prevent Pakistan from building a pipeline from Iran. This supposedly “shovel ready” project will enrich Tehran and greatly enhance Iran’s voice in Afghanistan and the region. If Washington drops the ball on TAPI, China, India or Russia will be tempted to take it up. That will generate tensions among these often competing nuclear powers and leave the U.S. on the sidelines. Russia has already begun pressing India to make it a partner in TAPI.

So, they delayed vital energy infrastructure to both Pakistan and India for more than 10 years to keep Iran from having any influence in the region.  It was more important that we  win the pipeline war rather than the people of region win by having access to an abundant supply of cheap energy.

Moreover, if there is to be any hope of completing TAPI it will happen with the help of Russia, China and India in creating a stable Afghanistan by finally bringing an end to the conflict between Kabul and the Taliban.

IPI is Dead, Long Live IPI

The IPI pipeline in any form was always a better solution for India than TAPI.  This announcement by the Russian Energy Minister says a lot of things without saying them directly:

  1. India couldn’t wait any longer for a gas pipeline to alleviate its intense energy needs.
  2. U.S. influence in the region per its loss in both Iraq and Syria militarily is fading very quickly
  3. Hillary Clinton’s influence within foreign policy circles has been reduced to zero since she was one of TAPI’s biggest supporters.
  4. This new IPI pipeline will get done before the Turkmenistan leg of TAPI.
  5. Russia is, of course, the big winner and Gazprom can now extend its influence into central Asia
  6. Europe is less and less likely to impose U.S. sanctions on its own companies that do business with Iran and Russia over energy projects given our inability to control both the narrative and the outcomes.

In the past couple of weeks, as I’ve noted here and here, both Iraq and Iran have made enormous diplomatic gestures daring the U.S. to retaliate.  We haven’t.

Trump is rightly focused on domestic policy and the neocons who run our foreign policy do not have an answer to the current string of defeats.  A major cog in China’s Belt and Road Initiative has been decided on.

The U.S. has no answer except to bomb more people in Afghanistan, ensuring that the pipeline of its dreams never gets completed.

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