By Gulnara Ismailova (2/26/2003 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On January 10 in the Gori district, a Baku-Batumi cargo train transporting oil went up in flames as two tank wagons were set on fire. On January 18, also in the Gori district, plotters tried to drill a hole in the Georgian section of the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline to pump oil, but failed. However, 130 cubic meters of oil was spilled.
On January 10 in the Gori district, a Baku-Batumi cargo train transporting oil went up in flames as two tank wagons were set on fire. On January 18, also in the Gori district, plotters tried to drill a hole in the Georgian section of the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline to pump oil, but failed. However, 130 cubic meters of oil was spilled. Finally, a third incident took place on January 29. As a 30-wagon train with Azerbaijani oil on route to the Black see port of Supsa crossed a railway bridge across the Hevisckali river in the Samtredia district of Georgia, an explosion threw the train into the river.
According to the president of the Georgian international oil company (GIOC) Georgiy Chanturia, all these actions were directed to put the oil pipeline out of action. He expressed his conviction that the incident had all \"indications to be a diversion\".
Azerbaijani ambassador to Georgia Hajan Hajiyev also does not exclude this interpretation. In his opinion, such actions may pursue the aim to upset the building of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline. Touching upon the protection of BTC, the ambassador stated that it is necessary to establish, jointly with Georgia and Turkey and other interested countries, a special division for pipeline protection.
Of course, the issue of BTC protection from terrorist acts and any other interference is of vital importance for the backers of the project. The case is that the region through which the pipeline passes is known as a hotbed of a series of local conflicts, and these energy transportation networks are strategic objects that may become the target of conflicting sides if unrest would emerge.
The responsibility for the damage to any oil pipelines, including BTC, as a result of external action, is borne by the government of the countries through which the pipeline passes.
The first real step towards the creation of collective safety measures was undertaken during the Trabzon meeting of the presidents of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia in April 2002. The ministers of internal affairs of the three countries signed an agreement about cooperation in the struggle against terrorism, narcotics, and organized crime. This document, and ensuing top-level negotiations, have become the basis for Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey cooperation on the struggle against international terrorism, ensuring the safety of the East-West transportation corridor and oil and gas pipelines along this route.
It was agreed at the summit that each state will solve independently issues connected with the safety of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipelines on their respective territory. In addition, the parties will actively coordinate their efforts to establish a common system on ensuring pipeline security. Azerbaijan, for example, created a state commission to ensure the security of the pipelines.
According to Georgian sources, there are plans to engage American radar tracking systems, pilotless reconnaissance planes and anti-terrorist divisions to protect the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. With this aim, the head of the Georgian international oil corporation Gia Chanturia negotiates with Northrop Grumman\'s Ryan Aeronautical Center (located in San Diego, California).
Chanturia did not exclude the possibility of NATO rendering technical support on ensuring the security of the BTC pipeline. Beginning this year, the U.S. intends to increase the train-and-equip program to Georgia to train special anti-terrorist forces from $65 million to $75 million. The Georgian ministry of defense, meanwhile, plans to allocate one battalion (400 soldiers) to protect BTC. According to some reports, financial resources to ensure safety of BTC will most likely be allocated by the governments of the three transit countries as well as from the project budget. Evidently, besides purchasing special equipment, the implementers of the project will have to think about the training of personnel to manage this equipment.
It is noteworthy that the incidents on the territory of Georgia were all directed against deliveries to the West of hydrocarbons from Azerbaijan, and happened during a very short period of time. There are vivid grounds to assume that the incidents are a planned action by opponents of the BTC pipeline and, more broadly, of the creation of the East-West Transport Corridor.
According to analysts, opponents of BTC will become even more active after the train with first shipment of pipe (240 pipes) assigned for the building of the Main Export Pipeline arrives in Baku on January 29.
According to ex-president of SOCAR Sabit Bagirov, it will be necessary to undertake international measures to secure the pipeline: \"I have no doubt. Special collective forces will be needed to protect these strategic objects. In any case, it will be necessary if such incidents repeat. These are international projects, and it is not only a single state or company that has interests in them. The world is too interested in these projects to allow to anyone to suspend its realization\".