|Giant Caspian sea oil pipeline opens|
|$4 billion East-West energy bridge weakens Russia and OPEC's grip on light crude
A major new U.S.-backed pipeline to bring oil directly from the Caspian Sea to Western markets and break Russia's longtime grip on vast energy resources from Central Asia to Turkey was formally launched Wednesday in a ceremony attended by presidents and dignitaries.
Equally important for western consumers of oil is the fact that the pipeline offers the west a huge supply of oil that it not under the control of Russian or OPEC. At the same time the Caspian produces much in demand light crude.
"Some did not believe in the realization of this project, some tried to disrupt it, but the support of the United States and the activity of BP helped realize the project," Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said at the ceremony to inaugurate the $4 billion initiative.
The presidents of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazakhstan were joined by other VIPs including U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and the head of British energy giant BP, John Browne, for the formal launch of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's special representative for international energy cooperation, Igor Yusufov, had been expected to attend the event. A Kremlin spokesman told AFP in Moscow that he was forced to cancel his planned trip to Baku at the last minute due to illness.
Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a declaration committing some of his country's vast Caspian oil reserves to transport through the pipeline just prior to the ceremony extending the BTC's life expectancy past 2010, when Azeri oil production is expected to slump.
"The East-West energy corridor plays an important security role in the region and it's clear that economic growth and stability would not be possible without the export of oil," Turkey's President Ahmet Necdetsezer said at the opening.
He said the pipeline would take pressure off Turkey's tanker-clogged Bosphorus Straits that link the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, another major maritime transport route for oil.
Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili stressed the geopolitical changes afoot in the region after the fall of the Soviet Union.
"After the fall of a big empire we want sources of hydrocarbons to be protected and provide for stability of their transport," he said.
The 1,770-kilometer-long pipeline will transform the Caucasus and Turkey into an energy bridge between the Caspian and the rest of the world and has shifted geo-strategic alliances in the Caucasus region and Central Asia.
But the presence of senior officials from the United States and other countries at Wednesday's ceremonies was tainted by a controversy as Azeri authorities continued to hold opposition members detained in connection with the pipeline's opening.
Authorities justified their actions on grounds that the rally was held too close to the pipeline opening ceremonies, a claim that was questioned by Western officials.
The British oil giant BP holds a leading 30 percent stake in the consortium running the pipeline. Other consortium members include Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR, Amerada Hess, ConocoPhillips, Eni, Inpex, Itochu, Statoil, Total, TPAO and Unocal.
SOCAR president Natik Aliyev called the pipeline, which is expected to become a major competitor to traditional export routes for Caspian oil that pass through Russia, the "realization" of a national dream on Wednesday.
He said it "bridged the nations of the region."The pipeline is to ship one million barrels of Caspian oil, roughly one percent of global oil production, daily to Turkey's Mediterranean coast once it is fully up and running by the end of the year.
Beirut,05 30 2005
The Daily Star