The Caspian Sea – the arena of contracting of the world superplayers

By Viktoria Panfilova

The Caspian region has already become the area of close fucos for the countries of North and South, East and West. This region, where already today there are political, military-strategic and economic interests of many countries of the world, by this not only of Caspian states (Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan), but also the most powerful world’s players – the USA, European Union, China.


With the so-called ending of NATO mission in Afghanistan in the region new risks occur, which concern Russia as it is known that the USA intends to include a sea-way through the Caspian Sea into a transit way to withdraw military cargoes from Afghanistan. “Diverse ways are being worked over. Probably Kazakhstani part of the Caspian Sea shall be involved. May other countries shall take part it this. Russia, as known, provided a transshipment airdrome in Ulyanovsk. But the problem is for the NATO troops withdrawal not to become a reason for a long-term establishment of military presence of the USA in the Caspian Sea and the region in general. Western countries have their own interests in the region, and they not always meet Russian ones”, - said the General Director of the Institute of Caspian Cooperation Sergey Mikheyev in course of the international conference “Caspian Subregion: Security Threats and Stabilization Factors”, which took place in the end of the last week.


Experts do not exclude that at least two naval bases of the USA can occur in the Caspian region – in Aktau and Baku. And this is a security threat for Russia, as well as for Iran, which has been in a pre-war state all recent years. As Sergey Mikheyev noted, it is completely inacceptable for Russia to regulate with force the situation around Iran, which is considered in West. “Any military conflict about Iran shall affect the countries of the Caspian region, including also Russia. Definitely, the USA shall involve bordering countries into this mission, which is not of our interests. Practice shows that active participation of NATO block in regional conflicts does lead to peace”, - said Mikheyev.


His viewpoint is shared by the Head of the Department of Criminal Science of Baku State University Kamil Salimov. He particularly noted that “NATO and the forces of the international coalition did not defeat Taliban completely”. According to him, NATO should report to the UNO Security Council on its mission accomplishment in Afghanistan. Together with this Salimov  suggested to consider the option to reformat the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and unite efforts of the number of international organizations, including SCTO to achieve stability in this country. He also observes as urgent to consider the favor of Afghan government and to preserve in Afghanistan after the planned withdrawal of NATO troops in 2014 nine military US bases to maintain peace and stability. As for the ways of NATO troops withdrawal from Afghanistan, he states that north-west, south ways – through Karachi, and west way – through the cost of the Caspian Sea should be engaged. “Transit should be agreed on with the governments of bordering states, many of which were the member of antiterrorist coalition. For example Azerbaijan actively participate also in humanitarian activity in Afghanistan and in cargoes transportation which flew to Afghanistan, - said Kamil Salimov.


However, as the Regional Development Center’s Director, Professor of Baku State University Chingiz Ismailov noted, a US military base will never occur in Azerbaijan. This was repeatedly declared by the President Ilham Aliyev. By this professor Ismailov underlined the existing economic imbalance in the relations of Azerbaijan and Russia, from the one side, and the USA and Azerbaijan – from the other. “Russia does not invest into Azerbaijani economy, meanwhile the USA in the frameworks of the “Silk Road” project suggested to finance a new port under construction in Baku. Naturally, the one who invests it, uses it”, - said professor Ismailov. But it is at least premature to state that the US base shall locate in Baku sea-port.


However, an Azerbaijani military expert, the editor-in-chief of the agency “3 view” Rauf Radzhabov considers, that “West takes all efforts to settle in the Caspian region. This leads, first of all to forcing out of the Russian Federation from Caucasian-Caspian and Central Asian region with all consequences in the balance of powers of geopolitical actors (also for Iran) and settlement of the USA and NATO in the above specified regions; secondly, to the establishment of military ground in one of Caspian states for prevention of strategic partnership between the Russian Federation, Iran and China within the frameworks of the one military-political block SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization). He thinks that geopolitical, geostrategic and geoeconomic interests of the USA are not about gaining of access to Caspian oil, but about promotion of NATO to East. Deployment of the American naval base in Aktau port may contribute to the achievement of this objective. Moreover that recently the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev reported about his readiness to provide NATO a transit way to transfer cargoes from Afghanistan through the Caspian Sea.


As the Director of the Current Researches Center “Alternativa” Andrey Chebotariov noted, the issue regarding Aktau would never occur provided Russia didn’t make the decision about provision to NATO of Ulyanovsk airdrome. “If this issue did not arise in Russia, as I think, Nazarbayev wouldn’t state so openly about granting of transit through Aktau”, - noted Chebotariov. Except for that, according to the expert, the format of cooperation on the Caspian Sea has not yet been defined between Kazakhstan and the USA. Shall that be military or non-military cargoes, which are the limitations, conditions and – most importantly – the price of the issue. Which shall be the benefits for Kazakhstan? The third factor - oil. Americans, working in the Caspian Sea, and there are Chevron and Exxon Mobil companies (development of Kashagan field) should assure their own security. Moreover that the attempts of cooperation between military establishment of the two countries have already been made. And the fourth one, not least important, which is the greatest interest for Kazakhstan, - the base is Aktau can become the guarantor of security in Mangistausk region, where after the events of 2011 in Janaozen the growth of social tension and extremism preserves. “From this point of view a sea-hub can play a definite role. Moreover that Kazakhstan as it seems to me does not see serious guarantees from Russian in SCTO frames. From the other side, Kazakhstan represents its foreign policy as multi-vector one, and the sense of the described scenario is to balance Russia … To get some opportunities for further bargains with Moscow on oil and gas issues”, - noted Andrey Chebotariov. He also reminded that the Foreign Affairs Minister of Kazakhstan Yerlan Idrisov earlier indicated that this can be a commercial step. “NATO leaves, and the port remains. Yet there are two declarations of the countries’ leaders, but there is no clear understanding of Kazakhstani interest. It’s evident that behind the curtain bargains are going on”, - considers Kazakhstani expert.


The Chairman of the Expert Council of the Save Caspian Sea Foundation Serikzhan Mambetalin says, “if there is great amount of oil in the Caspian Sea and there are American interests, than a great threat of war occurs always”. He thinks that it is proved by the developing infrastructure – the same port in Aktau for cargoes transshipment. “We have concerns that the American base in Aktau port shall be permanent”, - stated the expert. According to him it shall be a good opportunity for Americans not only to declare the North Caspian to be the zone of economic interests of the USA, pointing on the Kashagan field, but also for constant monitoring of all water area of the Caspian region and North Iran.


Mambetalin does not exclude that soon China can occur in the Caspian Sea. “Beijing can buy a share of ConocoPhillips of Kashagan project. Thus, the Tianxia shall become one of the players at the “sea of friendship”. China already possesses a field Karazhanbas in west Kazakhstan, but it has never yet come to the Caspian Sea itself. The purchase of a share for 5 billion USD can become for Moscow and Astana a headache. The expert suggested Russia to buy out this share of Kashagan project. “Russia shall be able to suspend China expansion to the Caspian Sea and balance the powers inside the consortium, forcing to observe environmental standards more strictly”, - said the expert.


Translated by EuroDialogueXXI from ng.ru