On July 5, the State Duma, the lower chamber of the Russian Parliament, voted in favor of letting Gazprom and Transneft, the two state-owned companies that control natural gas and oil pipelines in the country, create private paramilitary groups to protect the pipelines. The law was initiated by the Kremlin, so there is no doubt that President Vladimir Putin will sign it. In fact, Russian security officials who are worried about possible attacks on pipelines are behind this initiative. The law’s author is Alexander Gurov, a former police general who frequently lobbies in the State Duma for decisions favoring the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service (FSB). At the same time, the concerns of the siloviki are shared by the top Russian officials. Gurov told correspondents that “a couple of terrorist acts and the environmental disaster that will follow will be enough to immediately call Russia an unreliable supplier of energy resources” (Blotter.ru, July 5).
Today, Gazprom controls all gas pipelines in Russia while Transneft controls all oil transportation pipelines. Acts of sabotage and the bombing of pipelines are already a reality in Russia. In 2005 and 2006, here were several major explosions on the gas pipeline that exports Russian gas to Azerbaijan. These acts of sabotage may have influenced the Azerbaijani government’s decision to stop importing gas from Russia. Another result of these explosions was that the Azerbaijani authorities stopped extraditing Chechen rebels wanted by the Russian authorities.
Bombings of oil and gas pipelines and of power lines have taken place several times during the last two years in such North Caucasian regions as Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Stavropol Krai. The Russian authorities are now focusing on the city of Novorossiysk in Krasnodar Krai, a key port for the export of Russian oil. A rebel attack on the city or an explosion on the pipeline that brings oil to the port could seriously affect Russia’s oil exporting capabilities. In late July, anti-terrorist military exercises were held in Novorossiysk.
However, attacks on oil and gas facilities are possible outside of the North Caucasus. On August 6, the Supreme Court of Tatarstan, an ethnic republic in the Volga region, sentenced to various prison terms members of a Tatar and Chechen sabotage group that had carried out 11 bombings of oil, gas, and power facilities in Tatarstan, Kirov Oblast, Ulyanovsk, Samara, and Bashkorstan from 2004-2006. This group is probably not the only one of its kind. Last year, Chechen rebel leader Dokka Umarov established two “fronts” in Russia: “the Volga Front” and “the Urals Front.” In September 2006, the leadership of the “Volga Front” claimed responsibility for the bombing of a pipeline in Volgograd Oblast that exports gas from Central Asia through Russia. On June 6, FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev expressed concern about the growing number of supporters of radical Islam not only in the North Caucasus, but also in the Volga region (NTV, June 6).
Despite the clear need to enhance the protection of the pipelines in Russia, not everybody in the country agrees that private Gazprom and Transneft troops, who will be allowed to purchase and carry weapons, are really needed. For example, the independent Novaya gazeta newspaper asked why these paramilitary formations were needed when there are special departments in the FSB and the Ministry of Industry and Energy whose duty is to prevent acts of sabotage on pipelines (Novaya gazeta, July 20). It is quite possible that the establishment of Gazprom and Transneft armies has another purpose: to allow the FSB to deflect responsibility if a serious attack on pipelines really occurs.