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Russia May Build Gas Pipeline To Abkhazia

MOSCOW -- Russia's state-controlled gas firm Gazprom is exploring the possibility of building a pipeline to Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia region, an official at the company says.

The proposal is almost certain to anger aspiring NATO member Georgia, which accuses Moscow of trying to annex the Black Sea region and views as illegal any business dealings with the separatist administration.

"There is an idea of building a gas pipeline to Abkhazia directly from Russia, but no decision has been taken so far. It is just being studied," the Gazprom official told Reuters.

Abkhazia, a territory on the Black Sea coast, threw off Tbilisi's control in a separatist war in the early 1990s. It runs its own affairs, with support from Moscow, but no state has recognized its independence from Georgia.

A spokesman for Abkhazia's separatist leader confirmed that discussions were under way. "So far this is just a draft plan," he said.

Speaking on a visit to Berlin, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said Gazprom intended to explore for oil in Abkhazia. He described that as "an absolutely outrageous violation of any international commercial law."

But the Gazprom official said: "As far as oil is concerned, we know nothing about it."

A spokeswoman for Gazprom's oil arm, Gazprom Neft, said Saakashvili must be mistaken. "We are not working or exploring in Abkhazia for oil and there are absolutely no plans to do that in the foreseeable future," the spokeswoman said.

-- Reuters