Tajikistan Asks for Help on Hydroelectric Dam Project

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan — Tajikistan has asked Russia to help it complete a hydroelectric power project, the Tajik Foreign Ministry said Friday.

The request will be seen as a desperate about-face by cash-strapped Tajikistan, which canceled a cooperation deal on the Rogun dam project with billionaire Oleg Deripaska's United Company RusAl in September. The annulment of the contract over disagreements about how the project would be implemented threw the fate of the dam into doubt.

Widespread power shortages in recent winters have severely hindered Tajikistan's industrial output and left most of the population without electricity for days on end.

Tajik Prime Minister Akil Akilov last month wrote to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin with the request for assistance, the Tajik Foreign Ministry said.

"The letter did not specify under what condition Russia's participation in the consortium would take," ministry spokesman Davlat Nazri said.

Kommersant on Friday cited unidentified Russian officials as saying the project could be taken over by electricity trading firm Inter RAO.

Anatoly Chubais, chief executive of Unified Energy System, Inter RAO's parent company, confirmed the proposal but said no agreements had yet been reached, Kommersant reported.

The Rogun dam project started when Tajikistan was part of the Soviet Union but stalled in the economic chaos that followed the 1991 Soviet collapse. It remains only half-completed and has cost $800 million to date.

Tajik authorities have resorted to increasingly desperate measures to meet the cost of completing the project.

Earlier this year, Dushanbe Mayor Makhmadsaid Ubaidullayev appealed to the capital's residents to give up a month's salary — which he calculated would raise $10 million — to help build the dam, which the government has said could cost more than $500 million to finish.