CHECHEN REBELS ARE TRYING TO DAMAGE RUSSIA’S OIL-AND-GAS PIPELINE SYSTEM
Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 46
On December 8, a huge explosion in the Caucasian republic of Dagestan damaged a segment of the pipeline for exporting natural gas from Russia to Azerbaijan. Local security officials almost immediately admitted that the blast was an act of sabotage. On December 9, NTV quoted Abdul Musaev, a spokesman for Dagestan’s Interior Ministry, as saying that the republic’s procuracy was launching an investigation based on the articles in the criminal code covering “possession of illegal arms” and “terrorism.”
According to the Regnum new agency, the explosion took place near Makhachkala, Dagestan’s capital. Vremya novostei reported that there were two explosions. The first one destroyed the pipeline while the second one was caused by a leakage of gas, the newspaper said on December 10. The second explosion reportedly caused a flame 50 meters high that could be seen as far away as the center of Makhachkala. Twenty-two people were injured in the accident, mostly civilians who came to the site of the explosion, curious to see what had happened.
The pipeline that was bombed runs from the North Ossetian town of Mozdok to the Azerbaijan city of Gazimagomed and is used for exporting Russian natural gas to Azerbaijan. The latest explosion was the fourth attack targeting the pipeline this year. Two of the other incidents also took place in Dagestan while one took place in Chechnya. On April 5, a section of the pipeline was blown up near the village of Uitash in Dagestan. The Dagestani gas company Kaspiiskgazprom had to halt exports to Azerbaijan for several days, Vremya novostei reported on April 5. The Baku-Novorossiisk oil pipeline, which exports Azeri oil to Europe through Russia, was also damaged. The two lines pass very close to one another near Uitash and the same explosion hit both of them. Officials of the Dagestani branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) said that the explosions were the work of men loyal to Rabbani Khalilov (a.k.a. Rappani Khalilov), a Dagestani field commander who is a henchman of the Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basaev.
On May 24, the Mozdok-Gazimagomed pipeline was damaged again in Dagestan, while on July 5 an explosion hit a section of the pipeline in Chechnya’s northern Shelkovskoi district. In each the case the gas company has had to interrupt its exports to Azerbaijan and suffered significant financial losses as a result.
However, pipelines and oil reservoirs have been sabotaged not only in the Caucasus. In 2003, the press-service of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov released a videotape that is now being distributed across Chechnya. The tape shows a meeting of the top Chechen rebel commanders, including Maskhadov, Basaev, Doku Umarov and others, which took place in the mountains in March 2003. The voiced-over commentary on the tape says that “different issues of the continuing war against Russia are on the agenda, including the issue of committing acts of sabotage on the enemy’s territory.” Early in 2004 it became clear just what was meant by “acts of sabotage.” On February 18, two gas pipelines were blown up in the Moscow region’s Ramensky district, NEWSru.com reported. According to police reports, the pipelines were damaged with explosive devices made out of several rocket-propelled grenades.
Shamil Basaev sought to present the situation in a more dramatic way. He said that up to 60 artillery shells had been detonated and that they had destroyed two long-distance pipelines exporting natural gas to Europe through Belarus, as well as a Moscow water-heating power station. A video placed on the separatist Kavkazcenter website in February showed a rebel base in the Moscow region and bombs being manufactured. The video also showed targets: the Moscow water-heating power station, some streets in the center of the city and some pipelines. A map of the Moscow subway could also be seen on the screen of a laptop. The explosions themselves were not taped, so it is unlikely that Basaev’s claims were true. Nevertheless, even the explosions along the two local pipelines, which took place not far from Moscow, forced the authorities to take extra security measures in the region. On February 24, Andrei Barkovsky, the Moscow regional governor’s spokesman, told Ekho Moskvy radio: “The government of the Moscow region has decided to take additional antiterrorist measures, such as guarding and defending all strategically important objects and also hospitals, schools etc.”
These measures proved to be insufficient: On March 15, a power transmission line situated only 2.5 kilometers away from Moscow, next to the highway leading to the Crimean peninsula, was damaged by several explosions, NEWSru.com reported. NTV reported that day that FSB officers who arrived at the scene of the explosion found a Chechen flag that had been left on the ground.
In the spring of 2004, other acts of sabotage occurred in various parts of Russia. On April 24, the Samara–Lisichansk long-distance oil pipeline was blown up in the Volgograd region. This pipeline transports Russian oil to the ports of Odessa and Pivdenny in Ukraine to be further carried to the West (see Vestnik nefty i gaza, October 19). Police and FSB officers found a pistol, several grenades, and detonators inside a car that had been left near the site of the explosion, the Regnum news agency reported on April 26. On June 5, an oil reservoir that was part of the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline was blown up near the town of Neftekumsk in the Stavropol region. Security officials announced that this incident was also an act of sabotage carried out by militants loyal to Basaev, Regions.ru reported.
Chechen sabotage groups recently struck again near Moscow. On November 28, Interfax reported that a long-distance circular pipeline had been damaged by a blast near the village of Phosphoritny in the Moscow region’s Voskresensky district. This latest explosion has caused much anxiety among law-enforcement agencies. On December 3, Boris Gromov, the Moscow region’s governor, had a meeting with the local police and FSB chiefs, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported the following day. The newspaper quoted the head of the Moscow region’s police department, Nikolai Golovkin, as saying during the meeting: “If another Beslan happens in the region, there will be no forgiveness.” While a local FSB deputy chief was quoted as saying: “Moscow is the main target for terrorists, and the main duty of the security forces is to prevent terrorist acts in the Moscow region.”
There are grounds for concern. The Russian economy will face significant challenges if Chechen militants manage to intensify their sabotage campaign. The political consequences could be even more serious.