"We know only too well who they are, those forces that advocate the southern pipeline routes; the Russian side knows those people’s faces. …Those people seek to distance themselves from Russia," Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin burst out to journalists yesterday, evidently alluding to Central Asian leaders. He also attacked "the numerous countries that are far away from the Caspian Sea, yet have recently taken to defining that sea as strategically important to them…Only we who live around the Caspian are entitled to resolve these issues."
Chernomyrdin specifically targeted the proposed oil pipeline from Kazakhstan via the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, and Georgia to Turkey for further export to Europe; the planned gas pipeline Turkmenistan-Iran-Turkey-Europe; and the projected Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline. Basing his remarks on what he described as Soviet-era calculations–"everything had been thoroughly calculated before the USSR had collapsed"–Chernomyrdin maintained that oil and gas export pipelines from Central Asia and the Caspian are more cost-effective if they are routed via Russia. (Russian agencies, January 8)
The Russian prime minister was clearly reacting to the January 6 meeting of Central Asian presidents. The summit expressed a preference for the very pipelines that Chernomyrdin listed in his rejoinder. The presidents undertook to pool their countries’ efforts in promoting such pipelines and in joining international investment projects to build them in circumvention of Russia. U.S. and other Western governments and companies favor those projects. (See Monitor, January 7) Chernomyrdin will be visiting several Central Asian countries next week.
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