Prague, March 13 (RFE/RL) -- Chechen separatists are
targeting the gas and oil industry's infrastructure in their battle
for independence from Moscow.
Twice in the past month, explosions ripped holes in gas pipelines
that run through Chechnya. On Sunday, as firefighters tried to
control blazes that had been burning at a Grozny oil refinery since
last week's battle for the city, another explosion ripped through a
gas pipeline in the Derbent region of neighboring Dagestan. That
pipeline linked Mozdok in North Ossetia with Azerbaijan.
Moscow has N-O-T attributed the Dagestan explosion to Chechen
separatists or their sympathizers. But the chairman of Chechnya's
pro-Russian Constitutional Court, Ikhvan Gerikhanov, says Russia
C-A-N-N-O-T rule out any such attacks until Moscow negotiates a
future status for Chechnya.
The issue has serious implications for Moscow and a group of western
companies looking to develop the rich oil fields of the Caspian Sea
region. The international consortium plans to transport 32 million
tonnes of oil from Azerbaijan's off shore Caspian Sea fields through
two yet-to-be completed pipelines.
One pipeline would by-pass Russia altogether and stretch from Baku
to the new Georgian terminal of Supsa. The other, the
nearly-completed Transneft pipeline, would link the oil terminals at
Baku and Russia's Black Sea port at Novorossisk.
But about 70 kilometers of the Transneft pipeline runs across
northern Chechnya. It passes directly through Gudermes, as well as
Kizlar in Dagestan. Both towns have seen heavy fighting between
Chechen separatists and Russian forces in the past three months.
Gerikhanov has dismissed proposals that Russia should build a
pipeline branch by-passing Chechnya. He says such a project would be
While some Russian experts say the cost would N-O-T be more than 200
million dollars, Transneft president Valery Chernyayev has given
repeated assurance that his company can guarantee safe transport
Roger W. Robinson Jr., president of the Washington-based consulting
firm RWR Inc., predicts that the Caspian region could be a major oil
source for industrialized democracies in the 21st century. Taken
together, he says, the Caspian Sea reserves and the Tenghiz fields in
Kazakhstan are larger than the combined deposits of the North Sea and
Alaska's North Slope.
Robinson, who was Senior Director for International Economic Affairs
in President Ronald Reagan's National Security Council, says Moscow's
desire to control the entire route of the Transneft pipeline partly
explains the Russian military action against Grozny two years ago.
Lack of a reliable export route also has delayed development of
Kazakhstan's Tenghiz fields for more than three years.
Chevron, a western oil company, estimates that its joint venture to
develop the Tenghiz fields could already be producing 700,000 barrels
of crude oil per day and bring in an eventual 20,000 million dollars
in investment. But without a method to transport the oil to the
international market, Chevron has cut daily production to about
60,000 barrels a day -- less than 10 percent of the projected output.
The Caspian Pipeline Consortium of Russia, Kazakhstan and Oman
finally agreed this week to invite outside investment for the
construction of a pipeline that would link the Caspian port of
Komsomol to Novorossisk.
That agreement, after three years of bickering, could allow for
Chevron and other oil companies to join the three countries in
building the 750 kilometer stretch needed to complete a link from the
Tenghiz fields to Novorossisk.
The shortest route to already existing pipeline would be a link to
the Transneft line in Chechnya. But a map published in the Financial
Times (March 11) shows much longer proposed route to the north of the
troubled republic . It would first pass due west from Komsomol to
Tikhoretsk before turning south to the Black Sea port.