Getting the oil out

The northern export route

In the Soviet period, oil from Azerbaijan was pumped to Russia via Chechnya (Baku to Grozny, then further northwest). In the post-Soviet period, some pipelines have been extended and new ones have been constructed. A section of pipeline bypassing Chechnya was added, so that Russia's oil supply would no longer be hostage to events in Chechnya. A new section west to the port of Novorossiysk on the Black Sea coast was also completed, enabling Russia to export oil from Azerbaijan. A connecting east-west link from Kazakhstan enables Russia to export Tengiz oil from Atyrau (Kazakhstan) out of Novorossiysk as well. From Novorossiysk tankers can ship the oil across the Black Sea, through the straits (the Bosporus and the Dardanelles) into the Mediterranean Sea, and then either through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Atlantic Ocean or through the Suez Canal to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

Development of southern alternative export routes

Meanwhile, the West heavily promoted alternative export routes further to the south that did not go through Russia. A pipeline from Baku through Tbilisi to Supsa, a port on Georgia's Black Sea coast, has been in use for several years. In 2005, a pipeline carrying oil from Baku, through Tbilisi, to Turkey's Mediterranean coast at Ceyhan, was inaugurated. Kazakhstan is considering providing access to the southern route for its oil, either by tanker or by building an underwater pipeline to Baku from the new Caspian port of Kuryk.

Alternative export route farther south

A third alternative exists to routes through Russia and through Georgia. A pipeline could be built even further south to connect the oil fields in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to Turkey through Iran. This might make sense from the economic point of view, but reliance on Iran has been strongly opposed by the United States.

Economic and geopolitical rivalry

The choice between the northern export route through Novorossiysk and the southern route through Supsa and, now, Ceyhan has been the object of economic and geopolitical rivalry between Russia and the West.

Energy summits seek to reduce Russian leverage

The presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Poland, and the three Baltic states, and officials from other European and Caspian region governments, the EU and the U.S., met in Kyiv for a summit on energy security, in 2008. It was the third in a series of summits of this group, seeking ways to reduce Russian leverage on the energy security of the European countries involved.

In early 2010 the Georgian Prime Minister called together key countries to discuss the options for European countries to decrease their dependence on Russia regarding oil. Although the presidents of Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland did not attend, the summit went forward. No binding decisions were made but much of the discussion centered on the Nabucco project (Turkey to Austria pipeline project).

Alternate gas export projects

Turkey confirmed in 2012 that it hopes to add Turkmen gas to the planned Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP). A deal would see the Turkish project revitalizing the EU's "southern corridor" plan to feed Caspian gas to Europe while bypassing Russia. TANAP plans to start construction work on the pipelines across the Caspian to Azerbaijan in 2015.  Turkman gas could start flowing to Turkey by 2018 and to Europe by 2019.

There is also a proposal developed by the Asian Development Bank to build a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline to export Turkmen gas through Afghanistan to India and Pakistan.  The project still must attract commercial partners to finance it.