Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 75

The Baku-Supsa export pipeline for Azerbaijani oil was festively inaugurated on April 16 in the presence of Presidents Haidar Aliev of Azerbaijan, Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia and Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine, managers of the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC, the multibillion oil consortium) and senior United States and Turkish officials. On April 17, the three presidents and Western officials inaugurated the Georgia-Ukraine railroad ferry line, which adds a further leg to the East-West transportation route.

With token Russian representatives looking on, Aliev pointedly recalled that “certain countries had protested and objected to the project.” Aliev expressed gratitude–as did Shevardnadze and Kuchma–to the United States and Turkey for their political support of the project. Azerbaijan’s presidential adviser for foreign policy, Vafa Guluzade, pointed out that “this pipeline gives Caspian countries a reliable way to export oil without going through Russia. It is hugely important economically, but even more important politically. Now, for the first time, we have direct access to the West, freeing ourselves from Russia after 200 years.”

Georgian Parliament Chairman Zurab Zhvania described the newly opened route as “vitally important for the entire region, defined as stretching from Ukraine all the way to Uzbekistan.” “It gives us,” Zhvania said, “a chance to connect ourselves to each other and to the world in a way that keeps us free from political pressure or influence. I am talking about Russia, but also about Iran. They are not happy and I understand why. Our enemies understand the importance of this project better than our friends.”

Kuchma commented, in a similar vein, that the geopolitical significance of this route–“a backbone of national security”–is at least equal to its purely economic significance. He informed the participants that he had discussed last week in Klaipeda–with Presidents Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland and Valdas Adamkus of Lithuania–the project to transport Caspian oil via Georgia, Ukraine and Poland to Central Europe and the Baltic region. Ukrainian Transport Minister Ivan Dankevich, for his part, declared that the Ukrainian transit pipeline from the Black Sea to the Polish border is 60 percent complete.

The terminal was officially opened with the mooring of an 85,000-ton Maltese-registered tanker, which was filled with crude oil on April 17 and departed on April 18 for Trieste, Italy.

The pipeline runs 830 kilometers from the Sangachal terminal–on the Caspian Sea near Baku–to the Supsa terminal on Georgia’s Black Sea coast. The terminal includes four reservoirs with a capacity of 40,000 each, a floating installation three kilometers offshore for loading oil onto tankers and a connecting underwater pipeline. The line’s throughput capacity is 5 million tons annually at the present stage, but can be increased at low cost through the addition of pumping installations. The pipeline took two-and-a-half years to build at a cost of US$600 million; work proceeded haltingly because of cost overruns.

The Azerbaijani and Georgian leaders and the U.S. presidential coordinator on Caspian energy issues, Richard Morningstar, expressed confidence that construction work on the Main Export Pipeline from Baku via Georgia to Ceyhan (Turkey), will start before the end of the current year (Iprinda, Prime-News, Turan, UNIAN, Eastern Economist Daily (Kyiv), Turkish Daily News, New York Times, AP, April 16-19).

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