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.”
By Eka Janashia (10/29/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The Russian Federation and the Republic of Abkhazia intend to sign a Kremlin-proposed new agreement “On Alliance and Integration” by the end of October. The draft agreement further limits Abkhazia’s nominal independence in its relationship with Russia by circumscribing its competence to pursue defense and security policies. The publicized provisions of the document triggered reactions apprehensions in Sokhumi as well as Tbilisi.
The draft agreement foresees the introduction of a “common defense infrastructure,” a “combined group of forces” and “joint measures for border protection” to replace existing Abkhazian ones. Abkhazia’s Army, as an autonomous unit, will be replaced with a Combined Group of Forces (CGF) of the Russian and Abkhaz armed forces with joint command and defense infrastructure. In wartime, the commander of CGF will be appointed by Russia’s ministry of defense while citizens of Abkhazia will be able to serve on a contractual basis in Russian military units deployed in the breakaway region. The draft treaty also involves a “collective defense” clause obliging the sides to provide necessary support in case of attack.
The document also envisages a shift of the Russia-Abkhazia de facto border from the Psou River – at the de jure frontier between Russia and Georgia – to the Inguri River, which divides Abkhazia from Georgia proper. Moscow assumes the responsibility to protect the “Abkhaz state border with Georgia” by imposing “joint control” on the movement of people, transport and cargo in Abkhazia’s custom offices including ports.
Meanwhile, the draft treaty posits that Sokhumi will align its customs legislation with Eurasian Economic Union regulations and procedures, and synchronize its budgetary and tax laws with those of Russia in pre-defined time frame. In turn, the Kremlin commits to support Abkhazia’s international recognition, making it eligible for accession into international organizations.
To mitigate its obvious attempt to annex the region, Moscow pledges to increase the salaries of employees at state agencies and pensions for Russian citizens residing in Abkhazia. Notably, possessing Russian passports, the majority of Abkhazia’s residents are Russian citizens. Moscow promises to integrate these people into Russia’s federal compulsory health insurance system, which will allow them access to Russian healthcare services.
Despite extensive social assurances, the draft agreement triggered concerns in Abkhazia’s political and civil society circles. Even incumbent officials of the de facto republic stated a need to revise the document, which will otherwise lead to the loss of Abkhazia’s sovereignty. The fragility of opposition forces in Abkhazia, however, makes considerable changes to the draft unlikely.
Tbilisi termed the document a “step towards annexation” of Abkhazia by the Kremlin. Georgia’s PM Irakli Gharibashvili said that “this [treaty] is directly contrary to their [Abkhazians] 25-year struggle for self-determination, recognition and so-called independence.” Gharibashvili’s statement was strongly criticized by most Georgian opposition politicians and analysts. The ethnic cleansing and expulsion of Georgians from their homes deprives Abkhazia of a right to “self-determination” and the use of this term by Georgia’s PM could legitimize Abkhazia’s struggle for independence, the opponents asserted.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s parliament did not support the opposition United National Movement (UNM) party’s demand to abolish the Karasin-Abashidze format. Bilateral talks between the Georgian PM’s special envoy for relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, and Russia’s deputy foreign minister Grigory Karasin have taken place since December 2012 and mainly focuses on economic and trade issues. Tbilisi should express its protest to Moscow by repealing the format, UNM claimed.
Moscow termed Tbilisi’s reaction to the proposed treaty an “unscrupulous and dangerous speculation,” which may thwart the Geneva discussions, launched after the Russia-Georgia August war. For Tbilisi, maintaining the international platform provided by the Geneva talks is vitally important, as the format recognizes Russia as a party to the conflict. The Geneva talks also allow Georgia to discuss conflict related issues at the international level with the engagement of the EU, OSCE, and the UN, as well as the U.S. For the same reasons, Moscow is interested in thwarting the Geneva talks and instead reinforce direct, bilateral ties with Tbilisi.
The draft agreement proposed by the Kremlin will diminish any illusions that may have existed in Abkhazia regarding the region’s ability to attain sovereignty. The move will also test both Tbilisi’s capability to consolidate international pressure against Russia and Sokhumi’s strength to resist Moscow.
By Richard Weitz (10/01/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On August 24-29, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held its largest multinational exercise in history, Peace Mission 2014. The declared objective of the joint drills is to help the SCO member governments deter and, if necessary, defeat potential terrorist threats. But the exercises also allow Russia and China to communicate to the SCO and other parties, especially the U.S., that Moscow and Beijing have a genuine security partnership and that it extends to cover Central Asia.
By Arslan Sabyrbekov (09/17/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
In a recent interview to the state TV channel Khabar, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev spoke about his country’s possible withdrawal from the Eurasian Economic Union. In his words, “Kazakhstan’s independence is our most precious treasure, for which our forefathers fought. We will never surrender our independence and will do everything to protect it. Astana will never join an organization of any form, which presents any threat to its independent statehood.”
Analysts consider the demarche of the Kazakh President a response to recent Russian statements, which have to some extent questioned Kazakhstan’s viability and independence as a state. Speaking at the Seliger youth forum, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin described his Kazakh counterpart as the most experienced politician in the post-Soviet space and gave him credit for creating a state in a territory, where there was none before. In his words, “before Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan has never had any statehood.” This statement from the Russian side generated a sharp and bitter reaction among the Kazakhstani public, especially in nationalist and patriot circles. Several virtual protest actions were organized in the country, particularly a flash mob on social media that demanded a history book to be sent to Putin for revision.
Moreover, an earlier statement by the Deputy Speaker of the Russian Duma, the leader of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky, created a highly negative backdrop for President Putin’s later remarks. In his usual undiplomatic manner, Zhirinovsky said that after settling the Ukrainian crisis, Moscow should pay attention to the developments in Kazakhstan, where in his opinion, “anti-Russian sentiments are also on the rise.” Obviously, Zhirinovsky's statement come as no surprise to many. His demand last year that in return for its debts, Kyrgyzstan should give its Issyk-Kul Lake to Moscow, earned him a persona non grata status in that country.
The exchange of statements between the two Presidents has given rise to varying comments and assessments. Many were quick to make declarations about the big rift between Putin and Nazarbayev and the unexpected crisis in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). However, according to Almaty-based political analyst Dosym Satpaev, these implications are exaggerated. This is not the first time that Nazarbayev has made such remarks. In one of his earlier meetings with the country’s intellectual circles, the Kazakh President described the EEU as an exclusively economic project and said that if doubts arise, Astana will leave the organization at any time it deems necessary. Earlier, President Nazarbayev has also vetoed the creation of a legislative body within the EEU, the function of which obviously goes beyond mere economic integration.
The Moscow-based Central Asia expert Arkadyi Dubnov believes that Putin’s Seliger remarks were interpreted by Kazakhstan’s leadership in light of the developments in Ukraine. Kazakhstan, along with Ukraine, are parties to the 1994 Budapest memorandum. Both countries declined to maintain their nuclear arsenals in exchange for guarantees of territorial integrity. At that time, Moscow appeared as the major international guarantor and has in breach of the aforementioned memorandum annexed Crimea, claiming that no guarantees were given to the new political leadership in Kiev. According to Dubnov, Kazakhstan’s political leadership might have interpreted Putin’s and Zhirinovsky’s statements along the same lines, namely the possibility of a “Crimean scenario” in northern Kazakhstan with its significant Russian minority, if Astana obtains a new, nationalistic political leadership that disregards the Kremlin’s interests.
Indeed, there are many unknowns in this story and one can only speculate about the real logic behind the statements. It remains unclear what really prompted President Putin to make this claim. One can also simply interpret his statement as an effort to emphasize the role of his Kazakh counterpart, who has also been awarded the lifelong title “leader of the nation,” for founding modern Kazakhstan. Astana’s statement is also unlikely to have implications beyond the declaratory level, since Nazarbayev, as President Putin also stated at the youth forum, “is himself the chief initiator behind the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union in its current form.”
The author writes in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not represent the views of the organization for which he works.
By Valeriy Dzutsev (09/17/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Russia’s rapidly changing economic and political landscape is affecting relations between the peripheral North Caucasus region and the central government. As Moscow’s resources dwindle or are projected to diminish significantly, its ability to support an elaborate system of dependencies and allegiances in its semi-colonial periphery plummets. The central government seeks to reap more revenues from the regions and to decrease the appetites of local elites in order to finance its expansionist policies abroad. As a result, political uncertainty is growing and the previously muted criticism of Moscow’s policies from the North Caucasus’ ruling elites is coming to the forefront.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.