Caspian militarization not conducive to gas cooperation

The Caspian Sea washes the borders of five countries. These are Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Azerbaijan. They remain at odds over a wide range of difficult issues, including the legal status of the Caspian Sea itself.

The Caspian Sea washes the borders of five countries. These are Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Azerbaijan. They remain at odds over a wide range of difficult issues, including the legal status of the Caspian Sea itself.

According to Sergei Chernyakhovsky, a Moscow-based political analyst, who commented on this matter for the Voice of Russia, concerted efforts towards resolving issues are needed. He said that after WWII the balance of power was clear when it came to the Soviet Union and Iran, recalling the 1945 Potsdam Conference, which saw the Shah of Iran kneeling and kissing Joseph Stalin’s hands. Since then establishment of a fundamentalist regime in Iran, considerably complicated the matter, which according to the expert is why efforts by the five Caspian countries to reach a political consensus are unsuccessful.

The political impasse is aggravated by the ongoing militarization of the Caspian region. The past five years have seen Azerbaijan increase its military production 115-fold, and its Caspian Sea Navy is the region’s second-largest after Russia. The Azerbaijani Navy is US equipped with Special Naval Warfare Units, including Triton-1m and Triton-2 mini-submarines, as well as the Sirena self-propelled underwater diver transport vehicle. US instructors also take part in the training of the Azerbaijani Marine Corps. The modernized Soviet-era light frigate Qusar remains the flagship of the Azerbaijani Navy. In May 2011, a deal was clinched with a Turkish company for the production of some types of defense equipment in Azerbaijan, including warships and rockets.

Baku’s ever-increasing military ambitions are antagonizing Tehran, which points to possible subversive activities by Azerbaijani special services in Iranian Azerbaijan. Tehran is also concerned about Baku’s growing clout in the-oil-and-gas-rich Caspian region. The past few years have seen a string of provocative actions by the Azerbaijani Air Force against Iran as well.

Right now, Iran has up to 90 warships in the Caspian, including some carrying Chinese-made missiles with a range of 120 km. Earlier this year, Tehran said that another 75 missile carrying boats would be stationed in the area. Iran also has the capability to increase its military potential 1.5 times in short order by deploying the Persian Gulf-based cutters to the Caspian Sea. Additionally, Iran intends to deploy several helicopter carriers and small submarines in the region.

Baku’s increasing military presence in the Caspian also dismays Turkmenistan, which remains at loggerheads with Azerbaijan over issues related to the control of a whole array of the Caspian oil and gas fields. A Turkmen naval base is due to be created in the Caspian by 2015, something that Ashgabat says will be preceded by the purchase of 10 combat patrol boats from Ukraine and the long-term lease of an Iranian destroyer and 7 coast guard cutters.

Earlier, the US dispatched a Point Jackson-class patrol boat to Turkmenistan in a move that was made within the framework of bilateral military collaboration. Ashgabat also plans to buy two Russian missile cutters of the Molniya class in addition to another two fast cutters Turkmenistan bought from Turkey earlier this year. The Molniya has 16 anti-ship missiles with a range of up to 130 kilometers.

Kazakhstan’s major naval base in the Caspian is the port of Aktau, which is still under construction. Since 2004 Kazakhstan has bought several Grif- and Kalkan-class patrol boats equipped with missiles from Ukraine. In 2010, 4 US Navy assault boats were delivered to Kazakhstan on a free-of charge basis within the framework of bilateral defense cooperation. Two Super Bars-class missile boats are due to be bought from Russia in the near future. Additionally, a cooperation agreement was signed between Azerbaijani’s Special Warfare Naval Unit and Kazakhstan’s Naval Special Forces.

The strongest fleet in the Caspian belongs to Russia. It contains several air and coast guard brigades and special squads. Earlier this year, Russian Navy chief Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky said that Russia will add another 16 warships to its Caspian flotilla in the coming years. The flotilla already has the most powerful frigate in the Caspian Sea, the Tatarstan, which is equipped with the sophisticated Uran missile system capable of hitting any target at the range of up to 130 kilometers. The Dagestan frigate of the same class will be deployed in the Caspian by year’s-end. Also entering the Russian Caspian Flotilla in 2011 will be the advanced Buyan-M-class corvette and the mobile coastal missile system Bastion. The system is designed to destroy enemy ships at a range of up to 300 km.

Experts say that outside help will not help the Caspian states to win the arms race with Russia, which has repeatedly stressed the necessity of sitting at the negotiating table. The hope is that a comprehensive convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea will be finalized during a summit of Caspian countries, due to be held in Moscow before the end of this year.