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Medvedev’s Dream of Africa

During Russian President Dimitry Medvedev’s trip to Nigeria, Russian gas giant Gazprom signed a USD 2.5 billion deal with the West Africa country’s Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to invest in a new joint venture. The new firm, to be called Nigaz, is set to build refineries, pipelines and gas power stations in Nigeria.

The Gazprom-NNPC agreement came during a four-day “African safari” by Medvedev to Egypt, Nigeria, Namibia and Angola - the longest tour around Africa taken by a Kremlin leader. As well as forming Nigaz, Russia is keen on transporting vast reserves in Nigeria to Europe via a Trans-Saharan pipeline. Gazprom plans to start construction from next year on the first 360-kilometre stretch of the 4,128-kilometre Trans Saharan gas pipeline from Nigeria to Europe, via Niger and Algeria. “The prospects are very good,” Medvedev said.

The move could further reinforce Gazprom’s influence over Europe’s energy supplies. It is to show Brussels that if they really want to talk about gas from Nigeria, it will also be with Gazprom," Konstantin Simonov, the general director of the Russian National Energy Security Fund, told New Europe telephonically from Moscow on June 25.

But a long pipeline stretching across unstable territories may be doomed to failure. “It is very difficult to build a pipeline from Nigeria to North Africa,” Simonov said. “The political risks are very high because you know the situation in Nigeria. For terrorists it’s a lot easier to attack pipes than wells.”

And to make sure Medvedev got the message, Nigeria’s main militant group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Nigerian Delta (MEND), attacked Shell‘s Bille-Krakama pipeline in Rivers State late on June 24. This is the fate that awaits the gas pipelines you plan to invest in Nigeria if justice is not factored in the whole process,” the militant group said in an emailed statement aimed at Medvedev. Mr President, the agreements that you have signed in Abuja are worthless.”

 But Medvedev could have already achieved his political goals.

“This visit has two main aims. Firstly, to show to Europe that if Europe wants to avoid Russia it would be difficult because Russia would also be near Africa. Secondly, to show to African countries that Russia is trying to return to Africa,” Simonov said. The then Soviet Union was active in Africa especially in giving impetus to the anti-colonial struggle. Now we want to return to Africa, but we have no strategy. That is why I don’t think we will be successful during next several years,” Simonov said.

However, Medvedev showed Europe it is very difficult to avoid Russia because the Kremlin will also be very active in Africa.

Russian policy is very simple. Russia wants to take part in all projects that are an alternative to Russia. The aim of the European Commission is to diversify the 27-country bloc away from its present dependence on energy supplies from Russia. That is why Russia also wants to take part in all possible projects which can be an alternative to Russian gas supply, including Central Asia, North and West Africa. Nigeria is speaking about the possibility to export gas from Nigeria to Europe. And that is why Gazprom is officially interested in taking part in Trans-Saharan pipeline. But I don’t believe in gas from Nigeria in this pipeline,” Simonov said.

He said Gazprom would be better served by developing projects on Russia’s own territory, including a new pipeline from Sakhalin to Vladivostok and developing the massive Bovanenkovo and Shtokman fields. “We have a huge amount of projects on the territory of the Russian Federation,” Simonov said. “I don’t think it is a good idea to invest money in Nigeria.”

Kostis Geropoulos

Source: New Europe, June 28 - Jule 4, 2009

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Analytical series “The Political compass”:

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