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Putin to lobby gas pipe via Russia in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan

Russia's president is starting his trip to energy-rich Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan Thursday to promote a gas pipeline project going through his country's territory, a respected business daily said.

Moscow's initiative to lay a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan along the Kazakh and Russian Caspian coast is currently rivaled by a project of the United States, Europe and Georgia to build a pipeline under the Caspian Sea to deliver gas to southern Europe via Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. The US-backed project does not meet the interests of Kazakhstan either, Farkhat Ilyasov, consultant of the Imma Group, told the Vedomosti daily, adding that if Moscow does persuade Turkmenistan to choose its version of the project, the Central Asian country is most likely to gain political and economic guarantees from Russia in return. The death in December of Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov, who ruled the country with an iron hand for 21 years, prompted the US, Europe and Georgia to step up efforts to persuade Turkmenistan to return to the project initiated by Washington in 1996. According to the Oil & Gas Journal, Turkmenistan possesses the 11th largest reserves of natural gas in the world. (