bottleneck analysis

Fresh insights about energy, politics, travels, sports, music…

Category Archives: Central Asia

Back to school

2016-09-20-11-26-03

Edinburgh, UK

After three years of incredible personal, professional, and business growth, I take my leave from The Conway Bulletin to undertake a doctoral degree at the University of Glasgow.

When I started at the Bulletin as a Kazakhstan correspondent, the newspaper had only 3 pages. Back then, everyone was excited about the start of the Kashagan offshore oilfield, which would have soon disappointed hopefuls when its pipes broke. Interestingly, Kashagan just re-started a few days ago. But now the Bulletin counts hundreds of subscribers, not just dozens, runs 12 pages packed with news every week and has a fully-working archive with over 7,000 news items from the past six years.

Now, after writing well over 2,500 news stories and around 200 news wires, covering  elections around Central Asia and the South Caucasus, and doing an immense amount of daily research, it’s time for me to move on to my next challenge, back into academia.

At Glasgow, I’ll fold back into my research of Kazakhstan’s energy sector, with a particular eye this time to its social impact. This means that I will travel more to Central Asia, attend more academic conferences, and write more for a diverse range of outlets.

For a brief period, I will continue to work part-time at the Bulletin, hoping that my replacement can be found soon. And I will stay on in Edinburgh until there’s a good reason to move.

After almost two years, the blog is back. Or is it?

Advertisements

Скоро кончится лето – Кино

Almaty, Kazakhstan 

I’m writing my dissertation, that’s why I’ve been so proficient in procrastinating. But it’s crunch time, so I promise this will be my last post until I’m done with my academic writing.

When Viktor Tsoi died at 28 in a car accident in Latvia, the Baltic country had just declared its independence from the USSR. It was June of 1990, a time of change, or “перемен” as Tsoi would have sung it if he had lived to see it. A truly Soviet character, Tsoi was a Korean-Russian with some roots in Kazakhstan’s former sleepy capital of Kyzylorda (his father was born there). A profoundly uneasy artist, who even sounded dark when he sung his less-than-happy songs with his band, Kino.

Every 21st of June, the former Soviet youth celebrates its own Christmas. The birthday of Tsoi revives the Soviet rock scene from Almaty to St. Petersburg. Even a street artist was able to get away with painting a mural in his honor in Almaty, avoiding the ever strict Kazakh police. But I digress. I conducted a very quick analysis of the lyrics sung in the most famous songs by Kino. As I casually listened to the words used, it became clear that the choice made by Tsoi in the 80s was more original than many other songs that usually play in my iTunes.

A mural for Viktor Tsoi - Almaty (Arbat) 2014

A mural for Viktor Tsoi – Almaty (Arbat) 2014

Next to very Soviet words like звезда (star), война (war), земля (land), вперёд (forward), город (city), there are several ones related to natural phenomena – солнце (sun), трава (grass), снег (snow), огонь (fire). Other recurrent words reference the body: кровь (blood) and глаза (eyes). The choice of verbs is also interesting: молчить (to be silent), спать (to sleep), встать (to wake/stand up), остаться (to stay/be left). One very peculiar word that comes up often is брод (ford, “a shallow place in a river or stream allowing one to walk or drive across” tells me the dictionary).

Often, Kino’s songs address uncomfortable situations that disturb the “normal” living experience. When Tsoi talks about being stuck in either an Elektrichka (“Suburban Electric Train”) or on a Trolleibus going East, you can feel the problems that the singer was facing within. You won’t find любовь (love) or сердце (heart), except in their un-romantic meanings. “Love” is used in the locution я не люблю to say “I don’t like”, whereas “heart” is more often the source of pain than excitement.

There is so much sub-text in Kino’s songs that I should dedicate a month to it, not 30 minutes. But time flies, so I’d better go back to my dissertation, listening to Tsoi’s tunes, of course.

Kazakhstan at the Center of Eurasian Energy (an unconventional article)

Almaty, Kazakhstan

Several things have changed since I wrote this article in October 2013. It was never published and since it’s not topical anymore and it’s not deep enough to pitch it anywhere, I want to embark in an experiment: I’m going to comment it with a seven-month delay to check what has changed in the meantime. Comments are in bold. The original piece was written on October 9, 2013.

October has been a busy month for the energy sector of Kazakhstan. After a very hectic summer, with the launch of Kashagan oil production in September, Almaty and Astana hosted two very important international meetings.

In Almaty, the 21st Kazakhstan International Oil & Gas Exhibition (KIOGE) opened its doors on October 1st and saw the presence of local and international companies involved in the Kazakh energy sector, in particular in oil and gas from the upstream to the downstream. At the KIOGE Conference, on October 2nd, several influential figures took the floor and talked about the main successes and prospective challenges in the Kazakh extractive sector. Of particular interest, due to its recent developments, was the start of production in Kashagan, which had been the object of several years of investments and drillings in severe climatic conditions. At the press conference, the Deputy CEO of Geology and Projects at the national oil and gas company KazMunaiGaz (KMG), Kurmangazy Iskaziyev dismissed the rumors that regarded the stoppage of production soon after its start. “In such difficult conditions” he said, “it is business-as-usual to encounter such halts to production, it was fully accounted for by the consortium”. Now we know that the stoppage was not a short-term hiccup, but a structural problem which will delay production until the end of 2015, at the very least. Also, why do they always choose to start production with the winter season approaching?

When talking about the export options for Kashagan oil, the main option for the consortium is still the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC), which goes through Russia, to the port of Novorossiisk, where oil is shipped to the world markets. The input of new oil into the market goes hand in hand with the expansion of the CPC, which plans to more than double its throughput capacity in the next few years. Without additional input from a source other than TengizChevrOil, a 56/60 mta pipeline will be hard to fill. And if Kashagan is crucial to the “Future Growth Project”, then what does the consortium hope in terms of further oil supply? 

Otherwise, short-length shipping from Atyrau to the hub in Samara, or barge shipping from Aktau to Baku are both viable options, but less palatable economically. According to Reuters’ head of Commodities in the CIS, Aleksander Yershov, the government’s preference for CPC is “logical”. Quietly present was also the Chinese option, because its viability depends on the expansion of the pipeline network that connect Western Kazakhstan to Western China (an option that is not yet being served at the pipelines table). A few key questions for Kazakh energy were brought to the fore: the maturity of the fields that are being exploited in the country, the need for an improvement of the energy transportation infrastructure, and the beginning of the era of hard oil, also called “inaccessible oil”. This last point was echoed at the VIII KazEnergy Eurasian Forum that took place last week in Astana (8-9 October). There, several experts and famous politicians reminded the energy industry that the “end of easy oil” would entail an  increased of the role of the state in the extractive industries. Only by doing so, countries can ensure that the energy mix in domestic consumption and the portfolio for export can remain balanced. Wim Thomas, Chief Energy Advisor at Shell, depicted two scenarios that varied in the state intervention in the energy sector. Only a scenario that gives more power to the market would be successful according to the head of one among the top companies in Kazakhstan. At KazEnergy, the speakers mentioned repeatedly the ‘shale gas revolution’ in the United States as a game changer, because of its indirect effects on several market nodes down the chain of energy trade. These effects have yet to be seen in Europe, as gas is not yet traded without the link to the oil indexes, which is telling of how slow developments in this sectors can be when the resource is either still in the ground or not-so-easy to transport.

The official line of the Kazakh government is that day-to-day pragmatism has to be kept in place, while new development policies are drafted. Ministers and deputies mentioned the Green Economy legislation as the first step and unveiled on October 8th the Project ‘Evraziya’, which can become a platform for transnational companies and littoral governments in the Pri-Caspian region. The main partners will be Russia and Kazakhstan. Their public officials have promised to take the necessary steps to declassify their geological data in order to allow for an informed period of monitoring through the creation of an international consortium, under the auspices of the Ministries of Energy in Moscow and Astana. KazEnergy has been the broker of this project since the meeting last year, and the signature of an agreement by the end of the year would signify the success of the Forum in its mediation efforts. Nobody has talked about it since then, hopefully they’re working on it behind closed doors, but it would be interesting to check back at the next KazEnergy Forum. 

According to François Fillon and José María Aznar, both former Prime Ministers in France and Spain respectively, the role of the government in these matters should be one of balancing domestic needs with regional and global aspirations, but also one of attracting and encouraging foreign investment. This aim can only be achieved by guaranteeing a stable and reliable legislative framework, something that was repeatedly stressed also at KIOGE by several representatives of foreign companies that work in Kazakhstan. In particular, the new tender system, the question of health and safety of the workers, and the general issue of transparency were addressed. (Although some issues created conflicts among workers in the past months.) However, this last point about transparency was addressed by the V National Conference on the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in Kazakhstan, held at the end of KazEnergy on October 9th. In this occasion, the working plan for a new study of the penetration of transparency standards in Kazakhstan was laid out, which set in stone the collaboration between Astana and the Oslo-based organization. Competing interests were brought together during these two forums, with the two different understanding of energy security being spelled out by both importers and exporters. The participation of the representatives of the European Union and those of the Persian Gulf countries is telling of the efforts that Kazakhstan puts in place for the solution of one of the most complex equations of the 21st century. The placement of the Central Asian country at the center of the picture, increases the importance of Kazakhstan in bridging the interests of consumers and suppliers from Europe to Asia. No words were spent on India, which had just been sidelined after their offer for a stake in Kashagan was matched by KMG in the summer of 2013, and was later sold to CNPC by the Kazakh state company. Now, the recent developments of the new tenders in Kazakhstan, especially the successful exploration in the Abai offshore bloc, could revive the partnership.

Final note: in the past months, an increasingly depressing picture has been painted on the fate of Kashagan. This is especially true since the problem that it faced at the end of September 2013 is likely to strengthen the Consortium’s headache. Ramping costs, environmental fines, and production delays can only hurt the balance sheet of the operators of the field. Plus, the inability to enjoy the time of high oil prices can also have a negative effect, since the paradigmatic shift in Europe is ensuing and could bring down oil prices. If the “easy oil” era is expiring, the “inaccessible oil” epoch has still to come for Kazakhstan  

(Non) va bene

Almaty, Kazakhstan 

Tra mille nuove idee, un freschissimo e IMPORTANTISSIMO progetto (energybrains.org), ogni tanto è bene cercare su Google il proprio nome. Anche se si fa quasi a tempo perso. La “presenza online” è importante per chi si occupa di giornalismo e ricerca accademica, ma anche per chi volesse capire quanto della sua vita sia stato condiviso sulla grande rete.

E fu così che trovai un paio di citazioni dei miei lavori. Un articolo di un collega dell’Università tedesca di Siegen, Michael Sander, che ha pubblicato un ottimo articolo sulla pregevolissima rivista Energy Policy, un faro nella ricerca accademica per quanto riguarda l’energia. L’articolo citato è quello scritto a quattro mani con Elvira Oliva, che tra l’altro è anche una colonna portante del progetto Energy Brains di cui sopra.

Un’altra citazione è nella recensione della letteratura della tesi di Master di un giovane ricercatore norvegese. La citazione riguarda il mio libro sul ruolo dell’energia nella politica estera russa nei confronti del Kazakistan. Leggere come gli altri interpretano la tua analisi fa molto piacere (soprattutto quando il messaggio che hai provato a inviare è arrivato a destinazione). [Anche se l’ammontare di bibliografia e analisi copiata e incollata mi fa dubitare del sistema accademico norvegese]

Fin qui tutto (molto) bene. Poi incappi in infocusnewsanalysis (un’accozzaglia di parole-chiave tutte nel titolo!), che in un’analisi sulla situazione in Ucraina del dicembre scorso riporta, quasi per intero un mio articolo scritto per AGIenergia. Senza inserire né il nome della fonte, né un link di riferimento. Non va bene. Ringrazio per le belle parole, ma così muoiono sia il giornalismo, sia l’etica di chi scrive.

Lavorare con un settimanale britannico (The Conway Bulletin) mi sta insegnando che lavorare gratis non è un vanto, una buona azione che serve a farsi conoscere. È un danno prima di tutto ai colleghi che di giornalismo ci vivono (a fatica) e innesca meccanismi tali per cui si può copiare e incollare, senza sentire il bisogno di citare in maniera appropriata.

Bottom line: andatevi a cercare su Google, ci saranno probabilmente belle sorprese, ma quasi sicuramente qualcosa che non vorreste vedere.

Stampa estera, Foreign press, зарубежная пресса

Almaty, Kazakhstan 

This is a trilingual post, perché non mi capiscono когда по-итальянский говорю.

Dieci giorni fa, un blog kazako ha ripreso un mio articolo apparso su “L’Indro” sull’Affaire Ablyazov.Fin qui, ero contento.

Poi ho scoperto, che per un problema di interpretazione dei pronomi utilizzati, il curatore dell’articolo aveva fondamentalmente travisato il messaggio che avevo scritto.

Avrei detto che un giovane imprenditore sarebbe diventato il prossimo presidente del Kazakistan. E lo sapevo solo io?

No, secondo il blog, la loro fallace interpretazione delle mie parole rifletterebbe un sentimento condiviso nella stampa estera.

Di nuovo, contento di essere letto con attenzione in Kazakistan, ma contrariato dall’incapacità di tradurre per bene (dall’italiano al russo).

Ho lasciato un commento sul post, ma solo dopo che più di 4.000 persone avevano visitato la pagina.

Ora capisco come si creano i cicloni di false notizie.

Andiamo avanti.

Ten days ago, a blog in Kazakhstan reported an article of mine on the Ablyazov Affaire, published on “L’Indro”.Up to this point, I was happy.

Then I discovered that, due to a problem with the interpretation of the pronouns I used, the person that blogged the piece fundamentally missed the point of my message.

I apparently said that a young entrepreneur would have become the next president of Kazakhstan. And was I the only one who knew?

Not according to their blog. In their opinion, the fallacious interpretation of my words reflects a feeling common in the whole foreign press.

Again, I’m happy that people in Kazakhstan read me, but I’m grumpy, for they are incapable of translating well (from Italian into Russian).

I wrote a comment on the post, but only after more that 4,000 people had visited the page.

Now I know how small mis-interpretations become hurricanes of false news.

Let’s go forward.

Десять дней назад, блог в Казахстане сообщил, мою статью на Аблязова Affaire, опубликованным на “L’Indro”.До этого момента, я был счастлив.

Тогда я узнал, что, из-за проблем интерпретации местоимений, которые я использовал,  блогер существенно ошибился мысль моего сообщения.

Я, видимо, сказал, что молодой предприниматель стал бы следующим президентом Казахстана. И был я единственный, кто знал?

Не по их блога. По их мнению, ошибочна интерпретация моих слов отражает общее мнение, которое можно увидеть на зарубежной прессе.

Опять же, я счастлив, что люди в Казахстане меня читают, но я я недоволен, потому, что они не смогли хорошо переводить (с итальянского на русский).

Я написал комментарий на блоге, но только после более 4000 человек посмотрили страницу.

Теперь я знаю, как маленькая плохая интерпретация становятся ураганы ложных новостей.

Давайте вперед пойдём.

Alma-Аға

Almaty, Kazakhstan

It’s been 3 months since I moved to Kazakhstan and almost 4 months since my last post.
There are reasons for this. Shortly, I’ll list them below.

– I am successfully continuing my collaboration with the newspaper ‘L’Indro‘, where I publish two weekly columns on the post-Soviet region, covering mostly politics and economics, with a pinch of energy, of course. With the newspaper I also got to experience the “press pass” for the first time and talked to several fellow journalists at KIOGE in Almaty and KazEnergy Forum in Astana.

– I am also on the lookout for opportunities to publish stories in English again.

– I was interviewed twice. Once by ‘MilanoFinanza‘, the ‘Financial Times‘ of Italy. The long interview was on one of my favorite topics: the future of energy in Russia. It occupies the first 4 pages of a special issue of the weekly magazine that was distributed at the G20 in St. Petersburg in September. The last interview, was taken today, with a journalist from Barcelona working for the new information platform Extramurs, “planetary” news in Català. We discussed about the Arctic and the geopolitical challenges around it. I probably talked too much about energy, but I structured my answers around the vicious circle Global Warming – Northern Route – Oil&Gas Drilling – Global Warming… If we leave it to the Smithian invisible hand of market forces, we’ll pretty soon live an eternal summer.

– I enrolled in 6 graduate courses at KIMEP University. The most challenging of which, is Kazakh language, of course (look at the bad pun in the title, Alma-Ata, Alma-Mater…)

– I am in the process of finishing 2 academic publications. One is a comparison of the effects of EU accession in Bulgarian and Lithuanian nuclear energy policies (edited volume, published by Brill, The Netherlands). The other is a paper on my dissertation topic: bringing Gramscian concept to the study of energy and foreign policy in the case of Caspian pipeline politics (edited volume, published by ibidem, Germany).

– I will also finish up my economic research on Nord Stream as soon as I get my last interviews back.

Work, work, work… But life in Kazakhstan goes well nonetheless. Nice and warm here in Almaty. I met several beautiful people that accompany me in the everyday struggle against Soviet-era bureaucracy.

A highlight was the meeting with an Italian singer that has captured the ears and the hearts of many Kazakhs: Son Pascal. Originally, I approached him for an interview. Then, soon after we developed a fresh friendship. I’m sure our adventure at the sauna last week with the two oldest Kazakhs alive, talking about the internet (?!), open-heart operations (?!), and wives (?!), was not the last.

Oh, and most importantly, the NEW PROJECT that I’ve been working on for 2 years now will see the light before the end of the year. It’s going to be awesome and it will make me happy. I will soon share the details.