Vienna, May 9 – Moscow needs to focus on a dangerous new threat: its oil and gas pipelines, the backbone of Russia’s current success and the basis of its national security, are very much at risk both from terrorists and from those who would steal fuel from them, according to a leading Russian specialist on military affairs.
Terrorists increasingly have attacked these arteries of the Russian state. In Daghestan alone, Anatoliy Tsyganok writes in an article published this week, they have blown up portions of a major pipeline running across that republic at least 14 times in recent years (http://www.apn.ru/opinions/print17031.htm).
But almost equally dangerous are those who drill holes in pipelines in order to steal oil and gas. In the last year, he reports, thieves took some 30,000 tons of petroleum products out of the pipelines, often damaging them in ways that required enormous time, energy and money to fix.
Such stealing, the Moscow analyst reports, has become especially significant in Samara, Nizhniy Novgorod, Oryel, Moscow and Bryansk oblasts, in Krasnodar kray, and across the Northern Caucasus.
Both the terrorists and the thieves make use of the same tools: explosive materials contained in weapons left over from World War II and the Soviet period more generally. And both are able, the first intentionally and the second accidentally, to damage the pipelines now pressurized at 120 atmospheres, up from 75 atmospheres in earlier years.
Guarding almost one million kilometers of pipelines, of course, is a major challenge, Tsyganok acknowledges, but he argues that Russia’s “current system of protecting its pipelines is archaic” and “does it correspond to present-day security requirements.”
Tsyganok argues that the Russian government should immediately take four steps to remedy the situation. First of all, he suggests, Moscow along with the petroleum industry need to recognize this as a problem currently costing the country six million U.S. dollars every day and develop a program to address it.
Second, Moscow must ensure that already proclaims laws intended to “cleanse” the Russian Federation of the explosive materials that remain there so that neither potential thieves nor potential terrorists will have access to them. So far, that program has been more talk than action.
Third, Tsyganok says, the Russian government must increase the demands it places on petroleum companies to protect the pipelines. At present, the companies have less incentive than they should to guard the pipelines because when there is a problem, the government steps in at little or no cost to them.
And fourth – and it is clear from his discussion that this is the step Tsyganok places the greatest hope in – the central authorities must change existing laws to permit private, militarized security agencies to have the weapons and other tools they would need to guard the pipelines.
Unfortunately, these ideas will be resisted, especially the important last one. Most security firms in Russia, he writes, “function under the protection of the Interior Ministry and it is no secret that part of them have or have had a criminal past or present” – a pattern likely to make many reluctant to cede to them control over a key part of the nation’s infrastructure.
To overcome that opposition, Tsyganok argues, will require not so much additional funds but rather political will by President Vladimir Putin and other senior officials, who must recognize how increasingly dangerous the lack of security in the pipeline system is not only for the country’s economy but also for its military.
Tsyganok gives an example of the consequences of pipeline system insecurity for the Russian military that should open the eyes of the Kremlin. Over the last three years alone and “thanks to cooperation with” private petroleum companies, he notes, the Russian defense ministry has closed 24 fuel dumps.”
Russia’s commanders plan to eliminate 20 more in the near future in order to save approximately a half billion rubles a year out of the military’s budget, Tsyganok reports. But such savings, he points out, will be illusory if the country’s pipelines cannot be counted on to deliver the fuel the army needs to perform its mission.