- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 12, 2007

TURKMENBASHI, Turkmenistan — The presidents of Russia, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan agreed on a landmark gas pipeline deal yesterday in a victory for Moscow over U.S. and European plans for the region.

During a three-way summit in the Caspian Sea port of Turkmenbashi, the presidents agreed on pipeline restoration and new construction from Turkmenistan to Russia via Kazakhstan — a route long favored by Russia.

“We will reconstruct the Caspian shore gas pipeline with a capacity of 10 billion cubic meters [per year] and build a parallel gas pipeline. The corresponding agreement will be signed before this July,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said.

Mr. Putin said concrete work on the project would begin in the first half of 2008 and would increase capacity along the route by at least 12 billion cubic meters per year by 2012.

The deal represented a major triumph for Moscow, which has long pushed the route over a rival U.S. proposal that would cross the Caspian.

When asked about the trans-Caspian proposal, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov said: “That project has not been cancelled,” Interfax reported.

Russian Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko spoke dismissively of the U.S. proposal, however, saying: “No such project exists today.”

“The legal, technical, and ecological risks are so great that finding investors, if this is not a political project, … will be impossible,” he told reporters at the summit, Interfax reported.

Mr. Putin met with Mr. Berdymukhammedov and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev during a weeklong tour of Central Asia meant to counter U.S. and European influence in the Caspian region.

Mr. Nazarbayev sought to play down any perception of a contest, saying that it was “natural and normal for all integrated states” to expand regional transport ties.

But in a clear sign of growing tensions over energy corridors, the presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Poland held a rival energy summit on Friday and backed a planned oil pipeline bypassing Russia. The summit meeting in Krakow, Poland, which Mr. Nazarbayev declined an invitation to attend, produced a joint declaration of support for a pipeline that would link the Caspian and Baltic Seas to provide an oil corridor that doesn’t depend on Russia.

Europe has voiced growing concern about the power that Moscow wields because of its massive oil and gas reserves, as well as its strong control over transport of energy supplies from Central Asia.

Mr. Putin said yesterday that Russia’s plans for the Turkmen energy sector did not end with pipelines.

Alexei Miller, CEO of Russian state gas giant Gazprom, said the agreement yesterday would allow Russia to raise its total imports of Turkmen gas “to 80 billion cubic meters per year, in line with the contract we have until 2028,” Interfax reported.

Russia imported 41 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan in 2006, according to the Kremlin.

The new pipeline will be the first built in Turkmenistan since the 1970s and will reinforce Russia’s monopoly on exports of the country’s vast gas supplies.

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