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    Russia invites foreigners to help unlock Caspian Sea

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    ROSTOV-ON-DON, June 15 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's first deputy prime minister Friday welcomed private and foreign capital, including that of resource-rich Central Asian states, to expand the only canal that unlocks the Caspian Sea.

    "Private capital, including foreign private capital, [should be involved]," Sergei Ivanov said, adding that "the federal budget will never [agree to] fund 100% [of the construction costs]."

    He highlighted the potential advantages of the project for Caspian countries such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan, rich in resources but lacking safe channels to deliver them to international markets.

    "A concession [to expand the canal] is attractive to our partners. Joining the concession will actually turn Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan into maritime countries," Ivanov said.

    Ivanov's statement may be a sign of support for President Vladimir Putin's earlier proposal of an international consortium to build the second leg of the Volga-Don shipping canal, which was constructed in 1952.

    Currently, vessels from the Caspian to the Black Sea go north up the Volga, then turn west into the first leg of the Volga-Don Canal, then to the southeast into the Don to the Azov Sea, and from the Azov Sea to the Black Sea.

    Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev proposed an alternative project, called the Eurasia Canal, during the economic forum in St. Petersburg last week.

    Nazarbayev's proposal is to build an almost straight canal across Russia's North Caucasus, which will be nearly 900 km (600 miles) shorter. Roughly half the distance is already covered by navigable reservoirs built in Soviet times.

    While currently a vessel needs to pass a dozen locks between the two seas, only six are being proposed for the Eurasia Canal.

    Experts estimate that either canal would cost at least $5 billion. While Russian officials are already guaranteeing a cargo capacity of 16.5 million metric tons per year on their proposal, the Eurasia Canal could potentially carry up to 45 million tons.

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