Russia Calls for Closure of Baku Oil Line

MOSCOW (Reuters)–Russian Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhny on Wednesday called for a crude oil pipeline from Baku in Azerbaijan to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk to be closed–Interfax news agency reported.

"It’s an extreme measure–but there’s no other way," Interfax quoted him as saying at a business meeting in Moscow.

He said Russia would have to find an alternative route for transporting Azeri crude as the "critical situation" in the northern Caucasus made further deliveries for export along the line–which runs through the rebel Russian region of Chechnya–impossible.

Dmitry Saveleyev–head of the Russian crude pipeline monopoly Transneft–also at the meeting–was quoted as saying Transneft was looking at transporting crude by rail across the autonomous republic of Dagestan–neighboring Chechnya–instead.

The Baku-Grozny-Novorossiisk pipeline was the only export option for Azeri crude until this year. But it has been plagued by repeated closures all year–some for technical reasons but others thought to be caused by deliberate stoppages in Chechnya.

The main foreign oil group in Azerbaijan–the Azerbaijan International Operating Company–has been able to avoid the worst of the problems following the opening this spring of a separate western line running to the Georgian port of Supsa.

But Azeri state oil company SOCAR is dependent on Transneft keeping the line through Chechnya open. Interfax said the line is now closed again after an explosion on June 14.

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