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U.S., Russia Engage In 'Pipeline Politics'

By Jack Gee U.S.-backed plans to build a network of oil and gas pipelines under the Caspian Sea are running into environmental objections from Russia following the recent big oil discovery by Kazakhstan. Russian diplomats have been visiting Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan to insist that the pipelines threaten the sturgeon fish whose eggs provide appetizing caviar. Andrei Urnov, head of the Caspian Sea working group at the Russian foreign ministry, also warns that earthquake activity in the region could rupture the pipelines, triggering a potentially tragic oil spill. But U.S. officials are privately dismissing the Russian objections as part of a decade-long chess game of "pipeline politics" between their two countries. According to the Americans, the Russians want the oil links to run through their own territory, thus maintaining their political leverage over central Asia. Russian official Urnov retorts: "Everybody is entitled to his own opinion." The U.S. favors a Caspian delivery route because it wants any future pipeline for central Asia's oil and gas to avoid both Russia and Iran. Ideally, the U.S. envisages a network of pipelines from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan under the Caspian Sea to Baku, Azerbaijan, and on through the Caucasus to Ceyhan, on Turkey's Mediterranean coast.

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