Caspian pipe sinks Western plan to bypass Russia

Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov says he wants to start building the Pre-Caspian gas pipeline in the second half of 2008. He added that a deal to seal the project could be signed by the end of the year.

The Moscow-backed pipeline will send Turkmen gas to Europe via Russia.

Speaking after talks at a CIS heads of government summit in Ashghabad, Russia's Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov said the four nations involved – Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – had agreed that construction should start as soon as possible.

“We also intend to sign a four-party agreement on reconstruction of the existing gas mains,” Zubkov said.

The news agency TASS reports that Turkmenistan has not ruled out taking part in the alternative Trans-Caspian pipeline project, Nabucco, favoured by Western governments.  The Nabucco line would carry gas to Europe, bypassing Russia.

Speaking at the summit in Ashgabat, Turkmen President Berdimukhammedov said the Caspian pipeline was necessary for the country to fulfill its export commitments.

“Today Turkmenistan exports gas to Russia and Iran and we will start deliveries to China in 2009. Earlier this year we signed a trilateral contract on the Pre-Caspian pipeline between Russia, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan,” Berdimukhammedov said.