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Blasts Cut Russian Gas Flow to Georgia, Armenia

Sabotage is suspected. Nations dip into reserves amid subfreezing temperatures.

January 23, 2006|From Associated Press

TBILISI, Georgia — Explosions blamed on sabotage hit pipelines running through southern Russia early Sunday, cutting the supply of natural gas to the Caucasus countries of Georgia and Armenia during a cold snap.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said the blasts were aimed at destabilizing the mountainous country, a remark the Russian Foreign Ministry said "cannot be seen as other than hysteria."

Russia's NTV showed footage of twisted, smoking pipelines in a mountain pass in the Russian republic of North Ossetia.

An explosion of undetermined cause also knocked out an electricity transmission tower in Russia, interrupting power to Georgia.

Georgia and Armenia tapped into reserves to keep gas flowing during subfreezing weather, and Russia's electricity monopoly said it was rerouting power to Georgia.

There were no immediate reports of deaths or widespread suffering in the two impoverished countries.

Nikolai Shepel, chief prosecutor for Russia's southern region, said investigators believed sabotage caused the pipeline blasts. Russian news reports said explosive residue was found nearby.

Criminal groups as well as militants with ties to Chechen rebels have been suspected in pipeline explosions in Russia's turbulent North Caucasus region in recent years.

The gas shutdown underlined Georgia and Armenia's dependence on Russian energy supplies.

Georgian officials often bristle at what they say are Russia's attempts to use its control of the pipelines to interfere in the politics of the former Soviet republic, which is pursuing pro-Western policies.

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