Russian diplomat slams EU-backed Caspian pipeline

A Russian diplomat on Saturday called a planned pipeline linking gas-rich Turkmenistan with Europe via the Caspian Sea a political project of the West that could cause tensions without ensuring Europe's energy security.

"The TransCaspian pipeline will have practically no influence on Europe's energy security," Russian ambassador to Turkmenistan Alexander Blokhin told journalists in a rare briefing in Ashgabat.

The pipeline's 10 billion cubic metre capacity is too little in comparison with Europe's total consumption of gas to have any impact, he said, calling the project "more related to politics than economics."

The submarine TransCaspian pipeline project aims to transport natural gas from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan via the Caspian Sea, to feed into other pipelines, including Nabucco, a rival of Russia's South Stream project.

Russia previously dismissed the project as meddling by the West in the Caspian region, and harmful to the already damaged environment of the landlocked Caspian Sea.

The five Caspian nations, which also include Russia, Iran and Kazakhstan, need to make such infrastructural decisions together, Blokhin said, warning that "otherwise there will be complete havoc in the Caspian ... and we will get another hotbed of tension."

The European Union launched talks over the pipeline last year as part of its long-term goal to reduce Europe's dependence on Russia for about a quarter of its gas supplies.

The TransCaspian project is also supported by the United States, and State Department official Lynne Tracy said at an Ashgabat conference last month that the pipeline only needs the agreement of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan to proceed, building in their territorial waters.

However Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan also have disagreements, notably over disputed oil and gas fields in the Caspian Sea, whose demarcation has been a subject of debate for years.

Turkmenistan, a secluded ex-Soviet state with vast untapped gas resources, has been keen to diversify its gas export markets away from Russia.

In May, Turkmenistan signed sale-purchase agreements with India and Pakistan for another ambitious TAPI pipeline project to transport gas through neighbouring Afghanistan despite continuing violence and instability there.

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