February 22, 2013

Caspian and Black Sea Regions As Geopolitical Crossroads Between the West and Russia

In recent years, one of the leading centers of international attention have been the Caspian and Black Sea regions, which are extremely important for the energy supply of Europe. This first of all refers to the presence of significant oil and gas deposits in the Caspian region, as well as the role of the Black Sea and Black Sea countries of a liaison link in the transit of Caspian energy carriers to European and world markets, bypassing Russia.

On the one hand, this situation contributes to the economic development of these regions as a result of the inflow of foreign investments for the implementation of energy and energy- transporting projects in their territory, and on the other hand it leads to destabilization in the areas of the Caspian and Black Seas, and provokes appearance of sources of tension and conflict zones, when geopolitical interests of different countries collide and economic competition among them grows.

 Caspian and Black Sea Regions
Caspian and Black Sea Regions

In geopolitical terms, the main source of instability in the Caspian and Black Sea regions is the worsening confrontation between Russia, which considers the regions its exclusive zones of influence, and the United States, NATO and the EU, promoting their own interests at post-Soviet territories.

Among the main factors of contradictions between the parties in the economic field is competing projects of transportation of Caspian energy carriers to Europe. The EU, with the USA ‘s support, is trying to create a so-called "Southern Energy Transportation Corridor" and to ensure the delivery of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan’s gas to Europe bypassing the Russian Federation across the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan and Turkey. In contrast, Russia has advocated a project of transporting Russian gas to the EU through "South Stream" when the gas pipeline will run under the Black Sea to Bulgaria, bypassing Ukrainian territory.

"South Stream"
"South Stream"

As part of these plans, Russia and the United States, NATO and the EU are all trying to influence the countries of the Caspian and Black Sea regions in order to attract them to their sides. The Russian side opposes strengthening of regional positions of the USA, NATO and the EU, preventing the plans of Ukraine and Moldova of their European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Georgia; is trying to expand its presence in the energy sector of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, as well as is trying to convince these countries that construction of "Trans-Caspian" gas pipeline (on the bottom of the Caspian Sea) would be inappropriate.

Besides, a separate course of action of the Russian Federation is to provide all possible support to the separatist regimes in Trans-Dniester, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagornyi Karabakh, which is used by Russia as a tool to influence the policies of Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. It actually makes impossible to regulate the Trans-Dniester, Abkhazia-Georgia, Nagornyi Karabakh conflicts, that remain in "frozen" state and retain the possibility of an open armed confrontation. Evidence of this was the Russian-Georgian armed conflict in August 2008, and permanent firefights on the contact line of the conflicting parties in Nagornyi Karabakh.


Another problematic aspect is the ineffectiveness of Russian policy in the North Caucasus, where the sabotage and terrorist activities of Islamic extremists continue, despite the expansion of force actions of the Russian Federation. Thus, Russia's attempts to ensure economic recovery in the Southern Federal District of Russia, as a basis for solving the economic problems of the region, also fail to succeed.


The United States and the European Union actively cooperate with countries of the Caspian and Black Sea regions in economic and investment spheres. This in the first rate refers to the implementation by the American and European companies of joint projects on oil and gas production in Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.Besides, the USA and EU provide a consistent support to the efforts of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to find alternative ways to foreign energy markets. Thus, the US and the EU are the main lobbyists for the project of the "Trans-Caspian" gas pipeline and participants of the “Nabucco” project. At the same time, American and European companies participate in the development of offshore oil and gas resources on the Black Sea coast of Ukraine and Romania, as well as in the development of shale gas fields at the Ukrainian and Romanian territories; and invest into energy projects in Georgia and Moldova.

At the same time, a significant destabilizing factor in the development of the situation in the Caspian region is strained relations between the USA and its allies and Iran as a result of the realization by the Iranian side of the national nuclear program, which allows creation of nuclear weapons. This does not rule out a possibility of a US-Israel ‘s military operation against Iran, which will have negative consequences for the region in terms of the risk of spreading the conflict to other countries, increasing threats to production and transportation of Caspian energy carriers, appearance of streams of refugees, activation of weapons smuggling, etc.

Realization of the USA and NATO’s plans of withdrawing International ISAF forces from Afghanistan, will also have a negative impact on the situation in the Caspian region, as it will increase the danger of leakage of Islamic extremism to the Caspian countries.


In its turn, another source of threats to the Black Sea region is an armed conflict in Syria. Thus, after the fall of the Syrian B.Assad’s regime under the pressure of the opposition, actively supported by Western countries and their Middle Eastern allies, it can become a catalyst for the activation of the Kurdish extremists in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey in terms of building an independent Kurdish state. The mentioned above will lead to a significant destabilization of the situation in these countries, including the areas of passing of the oil pipelines from the Caspian region to Europe through the Turkish territory (especially near the Turkey-Azerbaijan border).

It should be noticed, that under certain circumstances, cannot be excluded a direct military confrontation between Russia and the US and NATO in the Black Sea region, which may occur as a result of critical sharpening of their relationship. To this testify the sides’ working on certain plans in the course of training of their armed forces, as well as demonstration of power of their armed forces.

For example, last summer the Russian side carried out large scale military trainings “Caucasus- 2012” with the participation of the forces of the Southern Military District, Black Sea Fleet and Caspian Flotilla of the Armed Forces of Russia, and inter-fleet Navy of the RF trainings in the Black and Mediterranean Seas in January 2013 (against the background of the aggravation of the situation around Syria) with the participation of ships of the Black Sea Fleet, Baltic and Northern Navies of the RF.

The USA and NATO have also intensified joint military trainings with countries of the Caspian and Black Sea regions. After the Russian-Georgian conflict in August 2008, US and NATO’s warships (including cruisers with guided missiles) regularly call at the Black Sea ports visiting Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia and Ukraine.


No less important are purely regional problems that can develop into new conflicts, including armed ones, namely:

  • in the Caspian region — not completely resolved the division of the Caspian Sea, due to which fact Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran argue for offshore oil and gas fields; tension is growing between Iran and Azerbaijan due to the activation of Azerbaijani-American and Azerbaijani-Israeli relations which Tehran perceives as a threat to its own security;
  • in the Black Sea region — Russia and Turkey are trying not to give up regional leadership and influence in the Caucasus, there are Russia’s potential territorial claims to Ukraine (Crimea) and those of Romania to Ukraine (Bessarabia and Bukovina) and of Bulgaria (adjacent offshore areas); Bucharest is intensifying measures for strengthening its regional positions, disregarding the interests of neighbors.

In such a situation, most of the Caspian and Black Sea countries are actively increasing their military potentials.


Military Districts of the RF Armed Forces
Military Districts of the RF Armed Forces

Most active in this is Russia, which attaches great importance to strengthening the combat potential of the Southern Military District of the RF Armed Forces — one of the most powerful military districts of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. The District consists of two field armies, one focused on the Southwest direction — the Black Sea region, and the second — on the South-East direction — the Caspian region. All in al the Southern Military District has about 30 infantry, artillery, missile and other brigades, and four bases of army and tactical aviation with the total number of troops up to 100 thousand soldiers. At this the troops of the SMD are being equipped with modern systems of weapons and military weapons systems and military equipment, including operational-tactical missile complexes "Iskander".

Development of infrastructure in the SMD and strengthening of Russian military bases in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Armenia, are very important for Russia in terms of strengthening its position in the South Caucasus and, in general — in the Black Sea region.

Under operational command of the Southern Military District of the RF Armed Forces are the Black Sea Fleet and Caspian Flotilla of Russian Navy, which also occupy a special place in the geopolitical goals of the Russian Federation. Thus, according to Russian plans for the coming years, a considerable strengthening of the Black Sea Fleet should be done through giving it 12 new and modernized warships and six submarines. At this, the BSF is used by Russia both, to counteract the USA and NATO in the Black Sea and Mediterranean regions, and to put pressure on Ukraine and Georgia.

Caspian flotilla is being strengthened too. By 2020, it is supposed to be completely upgraded due to the adoption of 16 new warships and support vessels. In particular, in 2010-2012 the Caspian flotilla received two corvettes of "Dagestan" type (all in all it will get five such ships, equipped with versatile ship missiles "Calibre-NK" that can affect surface and ground targets at ranges up to 300 km), as well as an artillery ship and two patrol ships. The main objectives of the Caspian flotilla include protection of the Caspian coast of Russia and securing its oil and gas fields in the northern part of the Caspian Sea, as well as demonstration of force to Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, to keep the latter off the realization of energy projects contradicting Russian interests. Thus, according to representatives of Russia’s government, cant be excluded a possibility of Russia’s using its military force in order to prevent the realization of the project of construction of “Trans-Caspian” gas pipeline.


The second military potential of the Black Sea region is Turkey, which keeps on route up to three field armies, two Air Commands and the "North" Task Force of Navy (about 40 warships of different classes). Given the above trends in the development of the situation in the region, the Turkish side will intensify measures to modernize and increase the capacity of national military forces, which include the development and adoption of: a new missile system with a range of ballistic missile launch to 2 thousand miles and intercontinental ballistic missiles range up to 10 thousand miles, and new tanks, combat aircrafts, attack and transport helicopters and basic classes of warships. In addition, due to the sharpening of the situation in Syria, in January — February 2013 six aircraft missile batteries «Patriot» from the US Armed Forces, Germany and the Netherlands were deployed on Turkish territory . At the same time, in answer to the deployment of Russian military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, there are plans of creation a new base of the Turkish Navy at the Black Sea coast of Turkey.


Georgia is paying great attention to strengthening its military potential, which keeps taking measures for restoration and modernization of its armed forces that had suffered losses during the Russian-Georgian conflict in August 2008.At this, taking into consideration the limited capacity of national defense industry, the equipment of Georgian Armed Forces with weapons and military equipment is mainly, with the help of the country’s foreign partners.

One of the main partners of the Georgian side is the United States that ignores the pressure from Russia. Thus, in 2012 the United States provided assistance to Georgia in the amount of about 66 million US dollars. In particular, the Georgian side received armored combat vehicles with enhanced anti-mine protection of “Cougar A 2” type, some other military equipment. Besides, the USA helps restore the Georgian air defense system.

Georgia is trying to restore military cooperation with Israel as well (which ended due to the Russian-Georgian conflict) in terms of getting UAVs and Israeli small arms production, but also extends the circle of military-technical partners, which includes, in particular, Poland.

A separate question is measures to promote productive capacity of its own military-industrial complex of Georgia and organization of production of individual specimens of modern weapons. Thus, in recent years Georgia has started producing armored infantry trucks «Lazika», multiple rocket launchers of 122 mm caliber , reconnaissance UAVs of tactical level, as well as a wide range of samples of light infantry weapons.

In the state budget of Georgia defense expanses are set at around 415 million US dollars, which makes 2.4 % of GDP(9.4 % of expenditure) and are by 2.2 % higher than last year. At this in 2014 the budget allocations for the Ministry of Defense are expected to increase by 5-6 %.


Despite the difficult economic situation in the country, modernization and building up the combat potential of the Armed Forces of Romania continue. Yes, it is planned to buy multi-fighters F-16 of American production and military transport aircrafts, UAVs, means of Air Defense and light armored vehicles of Western models. Besides, together with the American company Lockheed Martin, is being implemented a program of multi-target mobile radars with circular view AN/TPS-79, designed for the Romanian segment of the AD system of NATO.


Against this background, the USA and NATO are taking measures for strengthening their military presence in the Black Sea region. According to the agreements achieved between the United States and Bulgaria and Romania, in the territories of these countries is deployed the "Operational Tactic Group “East”" of the US 2 Army brigade groups of up to 3.5 thousand people each. By the period of rotation, this group may have grown up to four brigade groups numbering up to15 thousand servicemen.

Apart from this, within the framework of the deployment of the system of the US/ NATO in Europe, Turkey already has a radar missile warning AN/TPY-2 deployed at its territory, and by 2015 , 24 missiles SM-3 Block 1B will be deployed at the territory of Romania.


Among the Caspian countries, most active and significant (after Russia) means for the development of the national armed forces are being taken by Azerbaijan, which annually increases the amount of military expenditure. In particular, the state budget of Azerbaijan in 2013 provides about 1.94 billion US dollars (13% of total budget expenditure) for military needs ,which is by 8.5% more than in 2012.

As part of programs of re-armament of the Armed Forces over the last four years, Azerbaijan has purchased:

  • In Ukraine — 12 MiG-29 aircrafts, 19 T-72 tanks, 3 tactical missile complexes "Tochka-U" rockets for MANPADS "Skif",
  • in Russia — 4 search and rescue helicopters Ka-32, 6 helicopters Mi-8MT and Mi-17, 203-mm gun 2S7 "Pyon",
  • in Israel —  UAV «Hermes-450», «Heron» and «Searcher», portable systems of demining POMINS-2, missile systems «Barak», anti-ship missiles «Gabriel-5",
  • in Turkey — 60 APC (armored personnel carrier) «COBRA».

Besides, in late 2010, Azerbaijan and Russia agreed to supply Azerbaijan with two divisions of anti- aircraft missile systems S-300PMU-2. In 2011, Azerbaijan ordered in Russia 24 helicopters Mi-35. Azerbaijani S-125 are upgraded at Belarus plants.

Due to upgrading its own defense industry and cooperation with foreign partners( mainly Turkey and Israel) , Azerbaijan made it possible to produce a wide range of weapons and military equipment, including: firearms, bombs, mines, spare parts for tanks, mortars, missiles for multiple rocket launchers and more. Under the license of the South African company «Paramount Group», armored fighting vehicles «Matador» and «Marder” are being produced..After its reconstruction the shipyard in Baku has repaired and upgraded several warships and naval boats of Azerbaijan Navy, including the flagship of the Azerbaijan Navy — frigate «Qusar».


Pretty powerful military capabilities in the Caspian region has Kazakhstan, which is focused on re-equipping the national Navy with new models of naval equipment. With the assistance of Russia, in Kazakhstan shipyards "Ural Plant" Zenit "was launched production of missile boats such as" Kazakhstan ", equipped with anti-ship missiles of Russian origin" Uranium-E "(range of missile launch — 130 km). By 2015, the Navy of the country is expected to get about ten of these boats. In the future the Kazakhstan Navy will be equipped with corvette class ships.

Besides, Kazakhstan and the European company MBDA signed a protocol on intentions to supply Kazakhstan with mobile coastal missile systems with «Exocet» rockets (range of the launch- up to 180 km).


Despite the proclaimed neutral course, Turkmenistan is increasing its own military potential in the Caspian region, trying to create a secure environment for the realization of its energy projects. In particular, over the past two years, Turkmenistan bought from Turkey two patrol boats of the YTKB-400 project, with missile bombing equipment, and from Russia- two missile-artillery boats with anti-ship “Uran-2”missiles.


Proper measures to protect its own interests in the Caspian region takes Iran, which is trying to be able to repel possible attacks of the USA and its allies (through Azerbaijani territory and air space) and to restrain the attempts of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to develop offshore oil and gas fields in the situation of the incomplete process of division of the Caspian Sea. For this purpose, Iran's leadership is concerned about the country's new equipment of Navy warships (including corvettes and missile boats) of Iranian production. Besides, the possibility of development and adoption of micro submarines is being considered.

Over the last few years, within the framework of demonstration of force, Iran has carried out several Navy trainings in the regions of oil and gas fields of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, which created dangerous precedents for appearance of conflict situations.


In general all these processes are militarizing the Caspian and Black Sea regions very fast, sharpening the existing and provoking the appearance of new problems in the security sphere. All this can’t help touching national interests of Ukraine and threatens its security in political, economic, military, ecologic and other spheres. And thus needs a deep thinking over with the further realization of the regional strategy of our state.

22.02.2013 09:17:03