Satellite image of the Caspian Sea
A rise in the naval buildup of powers on the Caspian Sea highlights the deepening of unresolved regional tensions.
By John CK Daly for ISN Security Watch
Why has Russia built a new stealth equipped artillery ship, the Mahachkala, as Kazakhstan prepares to launch the Kazakhstan missile boat, its first domestically built warship, from its Zenit shipyard in Uralsk?
Because both nations are concerned about the security of their burgeoning Caspian energy assets, with Iran, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan also developing Caspian flotillas. While the global media focuses on rising US-Chinese naval tensions in the western Pacific, in isolated Central Asia a maritime arms race has been triggered by the resources of the Caspian, a cultural and political fault line where Christian Europe intersects the Muslim world. The sea, previously peacefully divided between the USSR and Iran, now has new players.
The 143,244 square-mile Caspian is the world’s largest enclosed body of water and is an endorheic sea: rivers only flow into it, with no egress to the open ocean.
What assets are the five nations scrambling to protect? Reserves, offshore production fields, undersea pipelines and tankers. In 2009 the US Energy Information Administration estimated that the Caspian could contain up to 250 billion barrels of recoverable oil along with an additional 200 billion barrels of potential reserves and 9.2 trillion cubic meters of recoverable natural gas.
Before 1991 the Soviet Union and Iran divided the inland sea amongst themselves. Under the 1921 Soviet-Iranian Treaty of Friendship, each had an “exclusive fishing rights in its coastal waters up to a limit of 10 nautical miles,” while the 1940 Soviet-Iranian treaty which supplemented the agreement further declared that the “parties hold the Caspian to belong to Iran and to the Soviet Union.” Needless to say, both treaties became invalid with the breakup of the USSR.
Ripples of discontent
Since the December 1991 implosion of the USSR, three new nations arose in the Caspian region and contested the bilateral arrangements: Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. ever since, the five nations have wrangled about how equitably to divide the Caspian’s waters and seabed, but little has been achieved. Adding to the confusion, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) did not definitively declare whether the international law of the sea or the law of inland lakes applied to the Caspian, labeling it instead as “a special inner sea.”
17 May 2012
Gas pipeline ‘pig trap’
By Sonia Rothwell
Yesterday we began charting how Russia seeks to maintain economic and geopolitical leverage across the former Soviet space. Our analysis inevitably reflects that it is now over two decades since the former USSR splintered into its constituent parts. Yet the return of Vladimir Putin to the Russian Presidency nevertheless provides us with insights into how Moscow might attempt to increase leverage in its former sphere of influence over the next 5-10 years. It is currently estimated, for example, that almost 70% of Russia’s export receipts are made up of transfers of natural resources, with the former Soviet space being a major recipient of end-products. A very healthy trade-surplus of more than $500bn provides Putin with opportunities to use Russia’s finances to its flex geopolitical muscle. During his election campaign, Putin pledged to invest approximately $750 million in Russia’s defense sector.
But to what extent do the former Soviet republics look to their old imperial master for security and economic cooperation? To answer this question, today we focus upon three sub-regions of the former Soviet Union – the Baltic States, Ukraine and Moldova. While each of these regions are forging economic and political relations that look beyond Russia, Moscow has the potential to use its energy supplies – and to a lesser extent its ethnic ties – to maintain a strategic foothold in Central and Eastern Europe.
A Changed Eastern Europe
From an economic and geopolitical perspective, the Baltic States have done the most out of all the former republics to distance themselves from their Soviet past. Each state is now a fully-fledged member of the European Union (EU) with Estonia (whose trade and cultural links have traditionally favored Finland) taking a step further away from Moscow after it joined the Eurozone in 2011. Like the Baltic States, Moldova also aspires to closer economic ties with the West in general and Europe in particular. Recently, Moldova’s Prime Minister and President re-affirmed their commitment to membership of the EU. Moldova’s efforts to also join NATO are largely encouraged by Romania and underpinned by linguistic and cultural affiliations between the two countries.
Russia nevertheless maintains a significant strategic foothold within Moldova. Its 14th army is stationed in the self-proclaimed majority Russian state of Trans Dniestra with Moscow also providing financial assistance to the government in Tiraspol. Strategically, it is in Russia’s interests to safeguard Trans-Dniestra’s independence to maintain Moscow’s influence within the region and divert Moldova’s attention away from full EU membership. Nevertheless, Russia maintains strong bilateral trade links with Moldova and there are calls for the country to join Russia’s nascent Customs Union. So in sharp contrast to the Baltic States, Moldova is seemingly pulled in two directions by its near- neighbor Romania and an economically significant Russia.
Boris Karpichkov worked as a KGB agent in the 1980s before fleeing to Britain as a place of safety. He talks about his career, why Russian spies are again targeting Britain – and why he’ll never stop looking over his shoulder
Boris Karpichkov, who worked for the KGB in Latvia during the Soviet era. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian
It is the perfect place to meet a man from the KGB. Boris Karpichkov – former KGB operative and double agent – suggests we meet under the shadow of Marble Arch in central London. I am late. But he is easy to spot: a gaunt, thin, pale figure with the slightly haunted look of someone who has spent their career in the twilight world of espionage.
Since fleeing to Britain in the late 1990s Karpichkov has preferred to keep a low profile – unlike another, better known Moscow agent who fled to London, one Alexander Litvinenko. Now, with the KGB’s most famous graduate, Vladimir Putin, about to get his old Kremlin job back, can Karpichkov shed light on the murky world of Russian spying?
Born in 1959 in Soviet Latvia, Karpichkov grew up in a patriotic communist family and became a mechanical engineer. The KGB approached him when he was working in a factory making parts for the aerospace industry. He enrolled at the KGB’s academy in Minsk in 1984, learning, among other things, how to shoot, and how to kill with his bare hands. He was assigned to the Riga branch of the KGB’s prestigious Second Directorate, specialising in counter-intelligence. He reached the rank of Major.
Tupolev Tu-95 in flight
Russian military intelligence is adjusting its work methods in response to the worsening international situation, Igor Sergun, the head of GRU – the country’s largest espionage agency – has told President Dmitry Medvedev.
“Changes in the world situation have required adjustments to be made to intelligence mechanisms and their implementation,” Sergun said on Thursday, as he presented his report to the head of state.
Currently, the main focus of Russian military intelligence is on “the so-called hot spots where terrorist and extremist groups are acting, regions with crisis situations, and also the sources and possible routes of illegal proliferation of nuclear materials and the components of weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
Sergun underlined that the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) is “practically the only special service in the world” which integrates all existing types and directions of intelligence into its structure.
GRU successfully fulfills its tasks thanks to the professionalism of secret service agents “combined with the usage of the most up-to-date achievements of information, telecommunication and space technologies and innovations,” explained Sergun.
Major General Sergun added that the agency has the technical capabilities to act in almost all possible fields. “This helps to obtain important information concerning the situation in military conflict areas and regions that interest military intelligence,” he added, as cited by Itar-Tass.
Published: 17 December, 2011, 10:38
A video grab released by News Team agency shows a damaged car at the site of the twin explosions in Makhachkala, the capital of Russia‘s North Caucasus region of Dagestan, early on September 22, 2011. (AFP PHOTO / NEWS TEAM)
The Caucasian republic of Dagestan in southern Russia is one of the most volatile areas in the country. Groups of militants operating in this part of the Caucasus have strong links with Al-Qaeda, and look to draw people in while they are young.
Anti-terror raids are constantly carried out in an attempt to eradicate the problem. Although militants usually target police and government officials, terrorism has so often ruined the lives of many innocent families across the region.
Because of that, a number of organizations have sprung up fighting for victims’ rights, and helping those affected to piece their lives back together. Svetlana Isaeva is one such activist who has dedicated her life to battling for her people’s future.
The organization she works in is called Mothers of Dagestan. The human rights NGO was created four years ago and is now known across the region. Read more »
|Interviewee:||Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations|
|Interviewer:||Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor, CFR.org|
November 10, 2011
A deal between Georgia and Russia (RT), helped by Swiss mediation, has opened the way for Russia to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). “The Russians are the largest economy not in the WTO,” and their accession is important both in economic and political terms, says CFR’s Stephen Sestanovich. But for the United States to benefit from Russia’s membership in the WTO, he says, Congress must “graduate” Russia from the terms of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which links trade to human rights practices, mainly emigration policies. Economic considerations make it likely for Congress to take this step, Sestanovich adds, but at the same time many members in Congress would like Jackson-Vanik to be replaced with something else that expresses continued U.S. support for democracy and human rights in Russia.
Russia is all set to enter the WTO. Is this a major development for the world economy? Is it a major development in Russia’s relations with the rest of the world?
The Russians are the largest economy not in the WTO. Their accession is important in economic terms; it also has significant political interest. A few months ago, I would have predicted that it would be quite hard to solve the big remaining obstacle, which was a political one. And that was that Georgia objected to Russian membership because, in brief, Russia is occupying its territory. It wanted arrangements made that would indicate that South Ossetia and Abkhazia–the Georgian provinces that Russia has recognized as autonomous, independent states following the brief Russian-Georgian war in 2008–are still part of Georgia. And the Russians of course, were in no mood to grant this. So, it looked as though it would be very hard to broker a deal.