Deputy chairman of parliamentary international committee on Russian-Azeri Caspian agreement

Konstantin Kosachev, deputy chairman of the Duma's international committee, has described "the coming signing of a Russian-Azeri agreement on the Caspian during a visit to Russia by Azerbaijan's President Geidar Aliyev, as an extremely important event". The State Duma is the lower house of the Russian parliament.

In an interview with journalists, he emphasised, RIA Novosti reports, that "Russia has never renounced the principle of consensus of all Caspian states when finally defining the status of this sea". "But progress towards solving the problem under a bilateral format does not contradict this principle, because what is divided is only the bottom, and not the depth and surface of water," Kosachev said.

In his view, "the sharpness of the discussion is due to the fact that the price of the legal status of the Caspian is tens of billions of tons of oil". "This is comparable with Persian Gulf reserves and, undoubtedly, is ground for clawing at literally every metre of shelf," the deputy emphasised.

Getting Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to agree to Russia's "middle-line option", which provides for the states to share equally in the development and use of deposits, is quite feasible, Kosachev noted. "At the same time the position of Iran, which is insisting on a 20 per cent division of the Caspian, and a similar stand by Turkmenistan (that of a condominium or common ownership), is the main stumbling block," he said.

In this context the parliamentarian indicated that five years ago the US declared Central Asia and the Caspian a zone of its national interests. Such a scenario, according to the deputy, "cannot but set one on guard, and Washington's energetic support for the far from economically indisputable project -- the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline -- is another confirmation".

"The White House perfectly realises that only diversification of energy supply routes from producer to buyer will, if not free, at least largely reduce US dependence on energy suppliers. The Bush administration is not concealing its strategic goal -- to ensure for the US a source of stable deliveries of cheap oil that is independent of OPEC. And the Caspian in this respect is ideal for the Americans, because neither Russia nor other states of the region are known to be OPEC members," Kosachev noted.

Seen against this background, the parliamentarian went on to say, not only a non-solved format of developing the Caspian shelf is the subject of keen struggle. Bitter rivalry exists over plans to take oil products to the world market. According to the deputy, Washington is today lining up "its own system of energy security, and above all through establishing its military bases around the world, especially in oil and other energy production and transportation areas. A pretext for setting up new bases in raw materials regions liable to suffer from conflicts is easy to find after September 11.

In Kosachev's view, one cannot close one's eyes to the fact that "American special forces increasingly turn into an inalienable landscape feature of countries rich in resources." "For Russia, however, non-participation or defeat in the struggle for control over oil and gas transportation routes from the nearby regions is pregnant not only with economic losses, but also may lead to its being forced out of the Central Asian and even Transcaucasian regions," the parliamentarian pointed out.

"That is why achieving compromise deals on the Caspian first with Kazakhstan and now with Azerbaijan is extremely important for Russian national interests," Kosachev emphasised.

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