ALL BROADCASTS FOR SIX SERVICES LIVE ONLINE All programs of RFE/RL's Armenian, Azerbaijani, Bulgarian, Kyrgyz, Russian and Ukrainian Services are online live in RealAudio. The Russian Service broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To tune in, go to:

At the beginning of this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem invited his counterparts from Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan to attend talks in Istanbul aimed at reaching a consensus on the merits of what may prove to be a $2.5 billion white elephant The project in question is the planned 1,730 kilometer pipeline from Baku via Georgia to the southern Turkish terminal at Ceyhan, which could pump 35-50 million tons of Caspian oil a year to a soft Mediterranean market.

The Baku-Ceyhan route is one of three options for the so-called Main Export Pipeline (MEP) currently being evaluated by the government of Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC), which is developing three Azerbaijani offshore oil fields. The others are the northern route from Baku via Grozny to Novorossiisk and the western route through Georgia to the Black Sea port of Supsa. The final choice is slated for October 1998 but may well be postponed.

Turkey's publicly stated reason for plugging Baku-Ceyhan is to preclude an increase in the volume of oil tanker traffic through the Turkish Straits, which could pose a serious environmental hazard to Istanbul and its population of 10 million as well as slow up traffic in an already congested waterway. Another complication is that the projected volume of AIOC oil--2 million barrels a day to come on stream years from now--could be consumed by the Black Sea littoral states, including Turkey, which imports about 700,000 barrels a day. Romania, Bulgaria, and Ukraine also have an interest in using Caspian oil for domestic consumption and possibly re-export. In any event, the MEP could not rely on AIOC oil alone but would have to include not only volumes from fields currently still being explored in the Caspian but also Kazakh and possibly Turkmen oil, too.

Turkey remains upbeat, however, not only because the project is viewed as a means to realize Ankara's geopolitical ambitions and its bid to become a regional energy and transport hub for Caspian and Central Asian gas but also because Washington is aggressively supporting the Turkish leadership as part of a larger scheme to funnel gas westward via Turkey by piggy-backing gas and oil pipelines. Turkey needs gas to fuel power plants worth $40 billion to be tendered in the next decade.

As for the producer and other potential transit countries, Azerbaijan has repeatedly affirmed its preference for the Baku-Ceyhan route, although Azerbaijani oil is already being exported northward through the Baku-Grozny-Novorossiisk pipeline. Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan see Baku-Ceyhan as a possible alternative or additional outlet to international markets. But that would likely necessitate laying a technically problematic underwater Trans-Caspian pipeline to Baku, which Russia and Iran jointly oppose. Turkmenistan's only other export routes are via Iran or Afghanistan. Kazakhstan has a choice between the westward-bound Tengiz-Astrakhan-Novorossiisk pipeline and eastwards via China but will go with whichever pipeline is operational first. It will also likely pursue a swap option with Iran, which many in the AIOC would presumably like to see if only Washington would tolerate it.

Georgia, meanwhile, will be laughing all the way to the bank whether the MEP terminates in Supsa or Ceyhan. Russia wants to see the bulk of oil flow north and argues--with justification--that the northern route is more economical. But the U.S., whose oil companies are major players in the Caspian, favors Baku-Ceyhan as a means of anchoring Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey to the West and thereby further undercutting Russia's already waning influence in the Transcaucasus.

In the event, the Istanbul talks revealed significant differences between Turkey and all participants except Georgia and failed to result in an unequivocal public endorsement of the Baku-Ceyhan option, as Turkey had hoped. The talks also irked Russia, which was not invited to participate. But that does not necessarily reflect a lack of determination to proceed and to find ways of buying off Moscow. Since 1994, Turkey has been talking about Russian participation in Baku-Ceyhan on the production side. It also wants to see Russian oil exported through Baku-Ceyhan.

In late January, Cem floated the idea of giving "all regional states," including Russia, a cut of the profits from exporting Caspian oil to Ceyhan. That offer is likely to engender more cut-throat, behind-the-scenes bargaining. Given the magnitude of the stakes involved, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's 2 March assertion that "an oil pipeline is not a tug-of-war" is simply wishful thinking.

ALL BROADCASTS FOR SIX SERVICES LIVE ONLINE All programs of RFE/RL's Armenian, Azerbaijani, Bulgarian, Kyrgyz, Russian and Ukrainian Services are online live in RealAudio. The Russian Service broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To tune in, go to:

UKRAINIAN NATO MEMBERSHIP TO BE DISCUSSED. Boris Tarasyuk, the Ukrainian ambassador to the Benelux countries and head of the Ukrainian mission at NATO, said on 10 March that Kyiv's membership in the alliance will be discussed in the future, ITAR-TASS and the "Eastern Economist" reported. Tarasyuk said Kyiv cannot currently raise the question of joining NATO since certain "conditions for this have not been created." But he did not exclude the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO "when the time is ripe," since, he said, NATO is the key institution of European security. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said during a recent visit to Moscow that Kyiv has no intention of joining the alliance but will "closely cooperate" with it. PB

CRIMEAN TATARS DEMAND SUFFRAGE FOR NON-CITIZENS. Some 3,000 Tatars demonstrated in the Crimean capital of Simferopol on 10 March for the right of non-citizens to vote in the upcoming elections, ITAR-TASS reported. The protesters asked the Ukrainian parliament to pass a law allowing Crimean Tatars without Ukrainian citizenship to take part in the 29 March elections, in which the Crimean parliament will also be elected. Since the late 1980s, some 250,000 Tatars have returned to Crimea from Central Asia, to where they were exiled under Stalin. An estimated one-third of those Tatars do not have Ukrainian citizenship. PB

MOLDOVA PROTESTS UKRAINIAN BORDER CHANGE. Prime Minister Ion Ciubuc on 10 March protested Ukraine's decision to fence off a site on the Danube estuary and thereby push the border 100 meters into Moldovan territory, ITAR-TASS reported. That move deprived Moldova of its only access point to the river in the area, where it is building an oil terminal with aid from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. After visiting the site, Ciubuc said the Ukrainian move is "contrary to international law" and said Ukraine cannot proceed with the fencing until ongoing bilateral talks on border delimitation are completed. Moldovan Deputy Foreign Minister Vasile Sova, who heads the Moldovan delegation to those talks, told RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau that mutually acceptable solutions have been reached in "90 percent" of such cases. MS