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Russia: Putin Touts Central Asian Gas Alliance

Moscow, 21 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia and Central Asian countries should join together in creating a gas-producing alliance in talks today with visiting Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. Putin said those two countries should head an alliance that would also include Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, as well as transit countries through which natural gas is piped for export.

The idea of a "Eurasian alliance has become imminent," ITAR-TASS quoted the Russian leader as saying.

The Russian news agency Interfax quoted Putin as saying the move "should secure long-term gas supplies" through the use of a unified pipeline distribution system.

The Russian and Turkmen leaders also appeared to be making progress in stubborn disagreements over dividing up oil and other resources of the Caspian Sea, AP reported. "Our specialists have significantly narrowed our approaches," Putin was quoted as saying.

The decade-long dispute has tainted relations as Russia and Turkmenistan took opposing viewpoints. Russia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan have argued that the seabed should be divided along national lines and the water left for common use, leaving Iran with the smallest claim to seabed resources. Turkmenistan has appeared to favor a compromise between that approach and Iran's proposal of dividing the seabed equally among the five Caspian states.

Niyazov twice canceled summits planned for 2001 on the sea's status amid tensions among the littoral states. He said earlier in January that he would discuss a summit date with Putin in Moscow.

Another Caspian leader, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, is due to visit Moscow later this week, and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami is scheduled to meet with Niyazov in Turkmenistan in March.

Niyazov said he favored Russia's strong role in Central Asian affairs. Turkmenistan has long been Russia's closest ally in the region.

Putin added that cooperation in the fuel and energy sector was a priority in relations between Moscow and the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat. But he also said Russia and Turkmenistan should expand cooperation outside the energy sector, particularly in the areas of international activities and humanitarian affairs.