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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Army Drills to Protect Pipelines

The army is holding its first major training exercises to protect against what Moscow sees as possible terrorist attacks on its vital oil and gas export routes.

Sweeping drills in the Siberian Military district, covering a theater of operations spanning hundreds of kilometers from Irkutsk to Buryatia near Lake Baikal, started Monday and entered their main phase Wednesday.

“The main focus of the drills is training for effective and preventative measures to counter terrorism and deal with the aftermath of emergencies, as well as with abnormal situations linked to transporting hydrocarbons,” the Defense Ministry said on its web site.

 Russia is building a pipeline to carry oil from huge new fields in eastern Siberia to energy-hungry Asian markets, including China, a move that the Kremlin hopes will diversify Moscow’s energy reach well beyond its traditional European markets.

The Defense Ministry said the army had joined forces with other security bodies for the exercises, but did not elaborate.

The ministry did note, however, that protecting railways and “other important facilities of the Siberian Military District” figured in the exercises.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta said similar drills would be held in the north and northwest of the country in late August and early September, focusing on threats to Russia’s gas export route to the West.

It said that in addition to the Leningrad Military District, the Black Sea and Baltic fleets and ally Belarus’s military units would take part.

Seeking to diversify its gas exports to Europe and bypass its unpredictable post-Soviet transit partner Ukraine, Russia heads up the Nord Stream gas project, which is supposed to have a twin pipeline up and running in 2011.

Nord Stream would bring 55 billion cubic meters of gas to Germany and other European Union consumers each year across the bottom of the Baltic sea.