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Russia and Azerbaijan Sign Pipeline Agreement

By Grigori Krichevsky

Moscow, Jan. 18 (RFE/RL) - The Russian government press service says Azerbaijan's President Geidar Aliyev and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin signed an agreement in Moscow today clearing the way for the transit of Azerbaijani oil through Russian territory.

The Information Department of the Russian government says negotiations on today's agreement started immediately after an international consortium of oil companies decided last October to transport oil from Azerbaijan's Caspian Sea shelf through two separate pipelines. It called for one pipeline to run through Russia and the other through Georgia.

The Russian pipeline is to transport oil from Azerbaijan through the separatist republic of Chechnya and on to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. However, it is unclear whether a recent escalation of fighting between Russian troops and Chechen separatist fighters might complicate these plans.

The second pipeline will transport Azerbaijani oil to the Georgian Black Sea port of Batumi.

The Itar-Tass News Agency quotes the chairman of the Russian oil company "Lukoil", Vagit Alekperov, as saying that work on the Russian pipeline is expected to last eight months. He said some $60 million are needed for the project.

According to Alekperov, modernization work on an existing Georgian pipeline, including a new section running 130 kilometers, will cost some $300 million.