Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 130

Chechen officials claimed yesterday that, as a result of Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov’s visit to Baku on July 1, Azerbaijan has agreed to sign a trilateral agreement between Moscow, Baku, and Djohar-gala on the transit of "early" oil from the Caspian through Chechnya to the Black Sea. Both Moscow and Baku had earlier refused to consider Chechnya as an independent party to the agreement. Chechen first deputy premier Movladi Udugov claimed earlier this week that Russia had now given its consent to the agreement and that Chechnya now needs only to win Baku’s assent. However, that claim was disputed yesterday by Russian first deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, who said that, as far as he knew, Baku had not changed its position. (Russian news agencies, July 1-2)

The issue of the transit of "early" Azerbaijani oil along the "northern variant," through Chechnya, is expected to be high on the agenda in the talks between the presidents of Azerbaijan and Russia. Meanwhile, there is speculation that Moscow may already have despaired of reaching agreement with Djohar-gala and that it is searching for an alternative route that would bypass Chechnya. Russian Security Council deputy secretary Boris Berezovsky was in Tbilisi on July 1, ostensibly to discuss the situation in Abkhazia with Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze. But, according to Kommersant- daily, the two leaders also discussed the issue of Azerbaijani oil. The newspaper speculated that, in return for the restoration of Georgia’s jurisdiction over Abkhazia, Shevardnadze might permit early Caspian oil to be transported along a new Baku-Tbilisi-Sukhumi-Novorossiisk pipeline. This would cut Chechnya out of the equation altogether. It would also put Georgia and Russia in a strong bargaining position vis-a-vis the Caspian oil consortium. American objections rule out transit via Iran while Azerbaijan refuses to consider transit via Armenia. (Kommersant- daily, July 2)

Disappointed in CIS Customs Union, Kyrgyzstan Sets Hopes on China.