Security architecture of the Caspian Sea facing a potential restructuring

Stratfor forecasts on potential changes in military order in the Caspian Sea amidst the recent developments in the littoral states. Currently, Russia holds the strongest navy and military activities in the Caspian waters among the five bordering states including Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. Russia has a stake in every military drill and operation in the Sea and produces most of the equipment used there. But the structure might change as Azerbaijan and Kazakshtan seek to develop their own naval capabilities, independent from Russia. The two countries recently signed an agreement on joint naval exercises and agreed on exchange of experience and trainings through military cooperation. Stratfor calls the move an attempt by Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to extricate from Russia by jointly defending their shared maritime interests. The agreement is a response to the expected risks from Russia’s growing involvement in Syria using the Caspian to launch cruise missiles from its ships with permission from Iran.

Caspian Sea offers a considerable incentive for separate interest developments that bring Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan into conflict with Iran and Russia. The Caspian Sea basin holds up to 48 billion barrels of oil and 8.2 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. Furthermore, the Trans-Caspian natural gas pipeline lies on the Sea and provides gas supply to Europe without Russian involvement. Disagreement over defining the shares of the coastline creates a disputed zone and adds up to Russia and Iran limiting neighbors’ access to offshore oil fields who also hinder construction of the Trans-Caspian pipeline.

As Russia and Iran enhance bilateral exercises, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have their separate developments. Azerbaijan has been acquiring more non-Russian military hardware in the recent years from the U.S., Turkey and Israel and at the same time courting other countries for its navy. Baku has recently hosted heads of navies from the U.S. and Korea over educational and technical cooperation opportunities. Baku already holds prior experience of participating in the U.S. coast guard trainings. In the similar vain, Kazakhstan has been trying to avoid purchase of the Russian equipment, dealing with French for instance as well as developing its own shipbuilding capabilities.

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News Briefs

  • In response to Turkey shooting down the Russian fighter jet, Moscow is deploying the missile cruiser ‘Moskva’ off Syrian coast aimed at strengthening air defense. The missile cruiser is one of the two biggest ships and a flagship vessel of the Russian Black Sea fleet. After leaving Sevastopol in summer 2015, the ship was deployed to join the Russian naval force in the Mediterranean Sea and acts as a covering force for Russian air forces in Syria. Russia’s General Staff representative also announced about the other responsive measures. More specifically each strike groups’ operation will be carried out under the guise of fighter jets and all military contacts with Turkey will be suspended. Russia-Turkey energy relations are considered to be at risk as well, particularly the current talks over Turkish Stream. Energy and other trade projects were on the Istanbul trip agenda of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that was cancelled after the jet shot down.
  • Turkmenistan is proposing to boost up the potential of Caspian state ports. During the visit to Tehran, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov also called on establishing an Interstate Coordination Commission with Iran to modernize interconnection among the ports. Currently the Turkmenbashi International Sea Port is under construction aiming to link Turkmenistan with the Iranian ports of Anzali and Neka on the Caspian Sea. Iran remains the most convenient transportation route for Turkmen resources to the energy markets but also the largest importer of natural gas from Turkmenistan. On the Other hand, Turkmenistan is the seventh leading importer of Iranian non-oil goods with the value of bilateral trade exceeding $4 billion last year.
  • The Kyrgyz Prosecutor General’s Office introduced extra charges on corruption against ex-president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Bakiev had been already been sentenced to life in absentia for his role in 2010 uprising that left 100 people dead, for the abuse of office and organization of two contract murders. The charges spread over illegal conversion of land use from agricultural to urban purposes for the purpose of constructing luxury cottage estates. Along with his brother Janysh and his son who are also implicated in the case Bakiev fled the country in 2010 and later received political asylum in Belarus from the President Alexander Lukashenko.
  • Russian officials announced about their commitment to continue delivering weapons to Afghanistan’s military over its concern of growing influence of Islamic State and their plans to merge with Taliban. After the meeting with her Afghan colleague, the Russian Senate speaker promised close observation of Taliban upraising and appropriate measures. She further welcomed Kabul’s intention to modernize its air force through purchase of Russian military helicopters and promised to help train its military and police personnel. Russia is particularly concerned about concentration of Taliban terrorists in Kunduz and Badakhshan. More intensified relations between the two countries followed the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Moscow where he asked Russian authorities Mi-35 helicopter gunships to help suppress the Islamist insurgency.
  • Tajik Parliamentarians drafted a law to give President Emomali Rahmon the title “Leader of the Nation”. In the midst of economic downturn, closing of even nominal opposition parties and insecurity at the Afghan border, the title suggests reiteration of the person in charge. The bill was announced to be drafted with the goal of strengthening foundations of the constitutional order and state independence. Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev was given the same title back in 2010 implying immunity in perpetuity and the right to intervene in politics after leaving the office, as well as personal exemption from term limits in precidency. Whether Rahmon will acquire similar terms with its pending new title is still unclear but the draft law is expected to clear any legal hurdles for seeking another term in 2020.
  • China has proposed to Tehran development of the Silk Road high-speed railwayn, a single line to connect the Chinese network to Central Asia and Iran. The link would overcome difficulties to connect the standard gauge networks of China and Iran on the one hand, and central Asia’s system on the other which is using Russia’s broad-gauge lines. China now has breaks-of-gauge at the borders of Mongolia, Russia and Kazakhstan and Iran with Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan. The chief engineer of China Railway has proposed a route which will run from the western Chinese Xinjiang region to Almaty then to Tashkent and Samarkand in Uzbekistan and Ashgabat in Turkmenistan before reaching Iran and continuing to Turkey and Bulgaria. However, previous experience shows that quite lengthy discussions over the Asian railway link have already been unsuccessful due to multiple geopolitical reasons.

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