Russia skeptical about Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline

MOSCOW, June 2. (RIA Novosti) - Russia is skeptical about the economic prospects of the newly built Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) $3-billion oil pipeline.

A popular weekly magazine, Itogi, writes that the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was at the forefront of the pipeline's opening ceremony, expressed interest in the project at the very last moment and is probably the only factor that can keep it afloat. The BTC is the longest U.S.-inspired pipeline and bypasses Russia and Iran.

Turkey has never had any serious oil, Azerbaijan's reserves have been grossly overstated, and Georgia only has vast resources of mineral water. Azerbaijan alone can hardly produce the 50 million metric tons of oil per year to fulfill the BTC capacity. Some say Azerbaijan's exploration maps were distorted at one point, and the Americans readily fell for this in belief that the Caspian could compensate for instability in the Gulf, and that a non-Russian oil pipeline to the Mediterranean would help undermine Russia's domination in the region. In fact, Kazakhstan seems to be the only state that has really something to explore and produce in the Caspian, the magazine writes.

Russia sees the project as politically motivated and therefore will not sign up. Even under pressure from Turkey, which has restricted the passage of Russian tankers through the Black Sea straits, Moscow has firmly refused a potentially lucrative offer from Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev to pump its oil through the BTC, citing the future Burgas (Bulgaria) - Alexandrupolis (Greece) pipeline as the reason. Stretching for 312km (194 miles), costing $700-million pipeline, and with a capacity of 35-50 million metric tons a year, it will be a less expensive and reportedly far more efficient project. Russian and Greek companies launched it several years ago.

Russia has enough oil to fill a pipeline without any external assistance, while BTC's looming under-usage threatens to turn "the project of the century" into a big politically biased waste of money, smelling of mineral water and revolutionary flowers, the magazine concludes.

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