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Russian intelligence accused pipeline sabotage { December 1 2003 }

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   http://www.guardian.co.uk/russia/article/0,2763,1096914,00.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/russia/article/0,2763,1096914,00.html

Russia accused of plot to sabotage Georgian oil pipeline

Nick Paton Walsh in Tbilisi
Monday December 1, 2003
The Guardian

A 2bn pipeline to carry Caspian oil to Europe through Georgia risks being damaged by Chechen mercenaries or ecological saboteurs sponsored by Russian intelligence, a senior Georgian security official and sources in Moscow claim.

The GRU, the sophisticated elite of Russia's military intelligence corps, has allegedly allocated money towards hiring or training eco-warriors and mercenaries to sabotage the 1,100-mile project, which is run by a consortium headed by BP and is expected to be operational by 2005.

"We are aware of this threat," a Georgian cabinet member said. "The pipeline is a key strategic interest to Georgia and we are checking the situation very carefully."

According to information obtained from Moscow security sources during two months of inquiries by the Guardian, the GRU has allocated part of its budget towards the sabotage operation. The plan is not yet believed to be active, although the GRU has allegedly begun training a cell of ecologists.

The cells may also be used against foreign oil interests elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, the sources claim. Mercenaries hired in neighbouring Chechnya are considered a possible - albeit more complicated - alternative.

The alleged plan exposes the continuing face-off between the west and Russia in Georgia. Because of the pipeline the geopolitical significance of the former Soviet republic now vastly outweighs its 4 million population.

The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline will ferry a million barrels of crude oil a day from the oil rich Azeri, Chirag and Gunashli fields of the Caspian to Turkish ports and on to Europe. Yet the long-term goal of the project is thought to be to carry oil from the massive uncharted oilfields of Kazakhstan across the Caspian to the west.

Russia is said to be opposed to the pipeline, which could significantly undermine its energy interests and influence in the region. "The geopolitical stakes are high as the US-backed pipeline competes with Russia's Baku-Novorossisk line," said Kate Mallinson, a former analyst of the Soviet Union for the Con trol Risks Group. "This represents a threat to Russia's political and economic interests. Therefore there is a risk of low-level disruption."

Poverty-stricken Georgia considers the pipeline vital to its long-term future. The first telephone call the acting president, Nino Burdzhanadze, made when she came to office last week was to BP. She called to "assure them the pipeline would be OK", said a senior Georgian official.

The company has been informed of the threat and takes it seriously, sources claim, although a BP spokeswoman declined to comment. The Russian ministry of defence said it "does not comment on crazy allegations".

However, analysts said last night it was unclear whether the sabotage plan was "controlled information" deliberately passed on to the consortium to intimidate it and hamper the project, or part of a genuine plot. "The Russians are normally more sophisticated," said one.

Eduard Shevardnadze, who resigned as Georgia's president last Sunday after weeks of protests, has blamed the billionaire George Soros for financing the opposition groups behind his ousting.





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