By Mina Muradova (10/29/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Russia intends to create a “collective security” system on the Caspian Sea to step up its naval cooperation with Azerbaijan as Moscow seeks to limit the presence of foreign militaries on the Caspian Sea.
“We agreed on the principles of interaction … This is a real breakthrough,” President Vladimir Putin said after the fourth Caspian summit in Astrakhan on September 29. According to Putin, the parties made progress in preparing the convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea “due to the coordination of key principles of the Caspian littoral states’ activity at sea.” These principles were reflected in a political statement signed by leaders of the five littoral states. According to Putin, the political statement “will become a cornerstone of the convention” and while he admitted that not all problems were settled in full, “their number has become far fewer.” The presidents managed to agree on clear formulations on the delimitation of water spaces, natural resources, and the regime of navigation and fisheries.
The Caspian Sea is a unique water area in terms of its ecology, which includes more than 500 kinds of sea plants and 854 kinds of fish species, including the Caspian sturgeon. The Sea contains an estimated 18 billion tons of hydrocarbon resources, with proven reserves of four billion tons.
The statement confirms the exclusive right of the littoral states’ armed forces to conduct military activity in the Caspian Sea as one of the fundamental principles for ensuring security and stability. “Such a regime was historically established. We’re not going to change it,” Putin said, adding that the five littoral states intend to solve all problems of the Caspian region exclusively among themselves.
Baku welcomed the results of the summit and Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov told journalists that the signed documents “fully meet” Azerbaijan’s national interests and do not contradict national legislation. “The basic principles of the agreements – the creation of a stable balance of weapons, taking into account the interests of littoral countries while carrying out military exercises in the sea, complying with the measures of mutual trust and meet Azerbaijan’s interests,” Khalafov said.
Azerbaijan’s compliance appears to be a primary objective of Russia’s Caspian policy, as this Caucasian country has relied mostly on U.S. advice in building its navy. Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Baku on October 13, two weeks after the presidents of the five Caspian states agreed to prevent the military presence of non-littoral states in the Caspian Sea. Reporting on Shoigu’s visit, RIA Novosti framed it as part of a concerted “Eastern foreign policy direction” to counter the effects of the Ukraine crisis: “For Russia the results of the [Caspian] summit were yet another remarkable success for the Eastern foreign policy direction that is taking place in the wake of a serious worsening of relations with the West as a result of the events around Ukraine. Earlier this year Moscow achieved a historic gas agreement with Beijing. It also managed to seriously advance the development of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which India and Pakistan will join next year.”
Shoigu’s visit is considered as the first active defense contact between the two nations after Azerbaijan and Russia failed to reach an agreement to extend the lease of the radar station in Gabala. “Now the period of disagreements seems to have been overcome with varying degrees of success, evidenced by intensive military and technical cooperation between the two countries,” Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper said referring to a source in the Russian defense ministry.
At present, the two countries are carrying out a program for developing cooperation in the military and military-technical fields for 2013-2016. 57 Azerbaijani servicemen are studying at the Russian Defense Ministry’s schools. According to Shoigu, “Education and training of personnel is a very serious task due to the supplies of military hardware for the Azerbaijani army within the military-technical cooperation” while cooperation in the Caspian Sea between the Russian and Azerbaijani navies is “a very important aspect.”
Shoigu’s delegation included the Russian navy’s top commander Viktor Chirkov, who met with President Ilham Aliyev and his counterpart, Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov. At the meeting, Shoigu termed Azerbaijan a “strategic partner of Russia” and the two Defense Ministers signed a plan on cooperation for 2015. Shoigu said that “everything connected with the Caspian is important to Russia,” and later confirmed that Russia’s agreements with Azerbaijan include joint military maneuvers in the Caspian Sea to be carried out in 2015.
Shoigu said the documents establish cooperation on army-command training and maritime tactical exercises. He also discussed with his Azerbaijani counterpart the possibility of creating a collective security system for the Caspian states, which could as a “first step” include joint measures to prevent maritime and air incidents.
The U.S. State Department commented on the Caspian summit declaration that it does not intend to change its military cooperation with Baku. According to State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki, “We have seen the joint statement issued by the Caspian Five that, among other things, calls for the non-presence of armed forces in the Caspian Sea not belonging to one of the Caspian Five countries … We maintain a strong security cooperation relationship with Azerbaijan, focusing on border security, counterterrorism, NATO interoperability, and its capacity to contribute peacekeepers to international missions. We do not anticipate the Caspian Five joint statement will change that.”