“Unilateral” trans-Caspian pipeline would undermine trust between littoral contries, Russia says

By bne IntelliNews June 10, 2015

Russia’s Foreign Ministry (MFA) has made a fresh attack on the project of a trans-Caspian gas pipeline between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, reiterating the country’s opposition based on environmental grounds.

“Unilateral action on the construction of a trans-Caspian pipeline would undermine the trust between Caspian countries,” MFA spokesperson Aleksandr Lukaschevich has said in a statement.

Turkmenistan has long tried to advocate a pipe across the Caspian sea linking its giant gas fields with Azerbaijan and further with Europe through Georgia and Turkey. European countries have increasingly backed the project, as it would allow them to break loose from Russia’s almost exclusive monopoly of European gas supplies.

Yet Russia has always opposed the project on environmental grounds.

“The problem of developing pipelines in the Caspian Sea […] should be looked at primarily through the prism of ecology and only then from an economic perspective,” Lukaschevich said.

“The economics of the project, its efficiency and financial feasibility should be judged by those who are planning to invest in it. But the environmental side of things  primarily concerns the countries whose shores are located on the Caspian Sea, and all of them without exception. Here, all five Caspian states have the right to vote.”

Three new states (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) joined Russia and Iran as littoral states in the Caspian basin following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since then, the five Caspian states have not been able to strike an agreement over the governance principles ruling the basin, with Iran and Russia maintaining that the sea should remain in common use and the new states leaning towards a basin division based on sovereign rights. Within the current uncertain legal framework, Russia and Iran de facto retain their previous veto powers over any major development taking place in the basin like the proposed trans-Caspian pipeline, which Iran also opposes. 

"We believe that the environmental security in the Caspian Sea must be the absolute priority. Note that Western ecological organizations, with all due respect to their work, by a strange coincidence focus all of their attention on environmental problems in various parts of Russia - from the territories beyond the Arctic Circle to the lake Baikal - but prefer to ignore the potential threats to the environment and to the humans in the Caspian region," Lukaschevich added. 

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