Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 160

Djohar-gala will soon begin construction of an oil pipeline from Chechnya to the Georgian Black Sea coast, Chechen vice-president Vakha Arsanov announced on August 27 during a visit to Baku. Arsanov said the Chechen government is completing work on the technical details of the proposed pipeline, which would follow the Baku–Djohar-gala–Tbilisi route and pass from there on to the Georgian terminals on the Black Sea. He said Chechen and Georgian government experts are actively discussing the proposal, which would "remove the dependence of Azerbaijan, Chechnya, and Georgia on the Russian monopoly on the transit of Caspian Sea oil." (Russian news agencies, August 28)

Today, there are two main alternative routes for transporting Caspian oil: the "northern variant" (Baku–Djohar-gala–Novorossiisk) and the "western variant" (through Georgia and Turkey). Moscow is vitally interested in the former, which is also advantageous to Djohar-gala since Chechnya would earn money from the transit of oil through its territory. Arsanov’s statement may therefore be only an empty threat. It seems unlikely that foreign companies will want to invest money in building a new branch of the pipeline from Djohar-gala to Tbilisi, and neither government has the money to build such a pipeline on its own. Arsanov’s statement looks more, therefore, like an attempt to pressure Moscow to speed up the restoration of the Chechen sector of the pipeline.

Arsanov’s statement is at variance, too, with a recent assertion by Russian first deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, that Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov assured him that Chechnya would put up no bureaucratic "or other" obstacles to the repair of the "northern variant" pipeline. (Russian agencies, August 27) Nemtsov added that the Chechen side had promised to guarantee the security of Russian workers repairing the pipeline. A Russian government delegation led by Deputy Energy Minister Sergei Kirienko is now in Chechnya to resolve remaining disputed questions. According to Russian Security Council secretary Ivan Rybkin, the Chechen sector of the pipeline will be restored in the next three weeks. (Russian news agencies, August 27)

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