Turkmenistan ups ante in oil row

TURKMENISTAN intensified diplomatic attacks on Azerbaijan yesterday, furious that its neighbouring fellow former Soviet republic is disputing its claim to sections of the oil-rich Caspian Sea.

TURKMENISTAN intensified diplomatic attacks on Azerbaijan yesterday, furious that its neighbouring fellow former Soviet republic is disputing its claim to sections of the oil-rich Caspian Sea.

Oil and gas minister Kakageldy Abdyllayev said in a statement published in state newspapers that Turkmenistan would take its claim for three offshore oil and gas fields to the United Nations International Court of Justice.

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The move came after an Azerbaijan border patrol earlier this month intercepted a Turkmen boat it claimed was conducting seismic experiments in the region.

Azerbaijan has said that the conducting of the experiments in the contested offshore Kyapaz oil and gas field breaches agreements that had previously been reached between the countries.

Turkmenistan – which refers to the disputed territory as “Serdar” – has denied the existence of any such understanding. Azerbaijan estimates that Kyapaz may hold up to 50 million tons of oil.

Disputes over how the inland Caspian Sea should be divided between the five surrounding nations – which also include Russia, Iran and Kazakhstan – date back to the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Relations between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan had become strained because of disputes over the region’s offshore fields – which also include Omar and Osman, known in Azerbaijan as “Guneshli” and “Chirag”, respectively – but had improved in recent years.

The new tensions, however, are now threatening to finally sever European Union plans for an undersea trans-Caspian pipeline linking the two countries, that could one day carry gas from Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan to Central Europe, circumventing Russia.

With the straining in relations, Azerbaijan-based projects have since taken precedence over the pipeline, possibly locking Turkmenistan out of European sales for the foreseeable future. The new pipelines envision more modest amounts of gas for delivery and do not require input from Turkmenistan.

Meanwhile, a semi-official Iranian news agency said Tehran plans to deploy submarines in the Caspian Sea.

The report yesterday quotes Admiral Abbas Zamini as saying Iran plans to deploy “light submarines” to the oil-rich sea. He did not elaborate.