Azerbaijan and the international consortium involved in the multibillion dollar Azeri-Chirag-Guneshi project recently signed an agreement with Russia’s pipeline operator, Transneft, to move “early” oil from Azerbaijan to the Russian port of Novorossiisk on the Black Sea coast.

This marks the beginning of the realization of Russia’s dream of cashing in – at least in part – on the expected Caspian Sea oil bonanza. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, however, warned that the pipeline’s Chechen section will be closed if Moscow continues to default on obligations to the Chechen side including the salaries of the Chechen security force assigned to guard the pipeline and their vehicles and communication equipment.

All of this brought a muddled reaction from Russia’s deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov who promised to pay the Chechens by the end of the week but said that Russia would finish most of an alternative pipeline through Dagestan by the end of the year and added that Russia must maintain its influence in the Caspian region to keep out the American Sixth Fleet, despite the fact that the Caspian Sea is landlocked.