Russia to help finance Asian power line

Russia is willing to help finance an ambitious Central Asian regional electricity transmission project, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said.

Putin told a gathering of prime ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization countries Monday in St. Petersburg, Russia, that his country is prepared to invest $500 million in the “CASA-1000” project.

The project, which has received backing from the World Bank, envisions building a 1,000-megawatt transmission line from hydropower generators in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan, which are seeking more reliable and cheaper sources of electricity.

But it has been delayed pending the completion of the Rogun hydropower project on the Vakhsh River in Tajikistan, which is opposed by neighboring Uzbekistan on environmental grounds.

“Russia is willing to commit at least $500 million into this project,” Putin said. “We could implement this project in a fairly short time and we propose intensifying work in this direction.”

The Central Asia-South Asia Electricity Trade and Transmission Project, or CASA-1000, would providing electric power to Pakistan and Afghanistan, mainly during the summer periods.

The initial agreements call for Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to supply an equal amount of electricity to Pakistan, which will receive 70-75 percent of the flow, and to Afghanistan, which will receive 20-25 percent, analysts from the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute say.

At about 1,000 miles it would be the biggest regional power supply project in Eurasia. Nearly 90 percent of its estimated $2 billion cost is to be funded by international finance organizations such as the World Bank and the Islamic Development Bank, with the remaining 10 percent provided by private investors.

Putin’s offer of financial help this week came in the context of expanding the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which consists of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, to include Pakistan as a full member.

Putin announced the establishment of an Energy Club within the organization that would concentrate on such Central Asian regional projects as CASA-1000 and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India — TAPI — natural gas pipeline.

The commitment comes after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev  urged Afghanistan and Pakistan in September to pick up the pace on energy projects such as CASA-1000 and TAPI, saying it’s time “to move from words to deeds” on them, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported.

He said during a meeting in Tajikistan with Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari  and Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai  that, while Russia was ready to invest “hundreds of millions of dollars” into the efforts, “necessary organizational decisions” need to be taken first.

“There’s a whole range of projects that have been on the table for a long time which have seen no movement forward and which should be implemented,” Medvedev said.

Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani , also speaking at Monday’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting, stressed enhanced energy links with the SCO nations.

The state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported he offered a five-point economic development plan that included securing financing for CASA-1000 and taking concrete measures to start the TAPI and Iran-Pakistan-India gas line projects.

He also called for setting up a free-trade zone in the SCO region as well as cooperation in the financial and banking sectors.

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