Russian media sneer at Chechen reports of successful fuel crackdown

Aug 12, 1999 02:00 AM

The Chechen government announced recently that its campaign against on oil and fuel smugglers looked like a success.
Since President Aslan Maskhadov personally assumed control of the crackdown in July, officials in Grozny said, the number of tanker trucks transporting illegally produced or acquired fuel through the republic has been reduced by fully 80%.
The Chechen officials claimed that the campaign had been successful because it was thorough. Checkpoints have been set up on all roads, and all illegal oil transports are seized, they said. They also noted that Maskhadov had issued an order providing for a guard to be mounted along the entire Chechen stretch of the Baku-Novorossiysk oil pipeline. Under the order, one guard was to be posted along every kilometre of the pipeline, which has become a significant source of crude for Chechnya's many thieves and underground refiners.
Russian media sources put a more cynical spin on the results of the Chechen crackdown. One newspaper wrote that theapparent success of the campaign stemmed from the fact that it had begun after Azerbaijan was forced to stop exporting its oil through the Baku-Novorossiysk pipeline. Without oil in the pipeline, Chechnya's underground refiners had no raw materials available -- and hence the number of trucks loaded with illegally produced gasoline on the road could not but decline, the newspaper explained.
It further speculated that Chechen troops had involved themselves in the fighting in neighbouring Dagestan in order to gain control of another section of the Baku-Novorossiysk line as well as other oil transport facilities. (The Azerbaijanis have been shipping some oil by sea to the Dagestani port of Makhachkala since the closure of the pipeline; from Makhachkala, the oil is sent by rail to Novorossiysk.)
In any event, Grozny's crackdown on fuel smugglers seems to have had one clear result: The republic's retailers are reporting a serious shortage of gasoline. Filling stations in Grozny are no longer selling AI-93 or AI-95 gasoline because none is available. Some gasoline marked as A-76 grade is being sold, but Russian media sources said that this fuel actually had an octane level of only 56. Chechen drivers are complaining that this extremely low-octane gasoline is damaging their cars, the Russian sources said.
Managers of the Grozny oil refinery have promised that production of A-76 and AI-93 grade gasoline will begin soon. Russian commentators expressed scepticism, noting that the Chechen oil-processing plant had no easily accessible sources of raw materials. The Baku-Novorossiysk pipeline can no longer be tapped, they said, and local oil deposits will not yield much oil unless they are outfitted with sophisticated new equipment.

Source: NewsBase
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