Caspian

GEORGIA ON THE 5TH YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF THE GEORGIAN – RUSSIAN WAR

GEORGIA ON THE 5TH YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF THE GEORGIAN – RUSSIAN WAR

As I arrived in Tbilisi just after midnight, the pilot came through on the PA and announced, “For those of you wishing to reset your watches, the local time is 12:30”. As I slid the time on my phone forward by an hour, I noticed the date change to 08 August 2013, precisely five years after the brief Georgian-Russian conflict erupted over the breakaway region of South-Ossetia. Who started the war and the motives behind Russia’s involvement are still debated to this day, particularly in the policy and intelligence communities in the West. But throughout 08 August 2013, it went barely without a mention here in Tbilisi.

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GAS, GUNS & GOLD: A CHINESE-RUSSIAN GREAT GAME

GAS, GUNS & GOLD: A CHINESE-RUSSIAN GREAT GAME

The 2006 British-American film Borat famously mocked the ignorance of US citizens to the ninth largest country in the world, Kazakhstan. It depicted the land as extremely poor, still struggling with its Soviet legacy, and as a bizarre mix of Russian, Oriental and Islamic influences. Despite the childish humour of the film, Kazakhstan, like the other Central Asian tates, is very much somewhere between the Middle East, Russia and China. In fact, Kazakhstan is probably the most easily labelled of all the Central Asian states, firmly under the sway of Russia. Yet the other four “Stans”; Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are where the competing forces of Russian, Islamic and Chinese influence have most clearly emerged in recent years. Despite an uptick in interest from the West following the invasion of Afghanistan in 2002, the region is perhaps the least discussed region in Western policy circles. However, the West has an even stronger vested interest in the region than at any point in the past. The Central Asian nations border Iran, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and China – the most talked about countries in Western policy circles. The region is not as poor as its mostly desert landscape and poverty-stricken people would reveal. Uzbekistan is home to the world’s second largest gold mine, Turkmenistan has the world’s fourth-largest natural gas reserves and Islamic radicalism, which has grown so rapidly in recent decades, has yet to deeply penetrate the Central Asian states – an equally important yet separate issue beyond the scope of this piece. Central Asia also stands at the heart of the two most geopolitically important pipeline projects: the ever-expanding Central Asia-China pipeline and the proposed Nabucco pipeline that hopes to one day build the Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP) extension to ship both Azeri and Turkmen gas to Europe without passing through Russia. More and more American and European analysts are beginning to view Central Asia as the site of a “New Great Game” between the United States and Russia. However, the Russians and Chinese have been playing their own game in the area for quite some time. And, as recent events have shown, for the United States and Europe, there may well be no room left at the table for them to make any moves.

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GAS TENSIONS SIMMER THE CASPIAN SEA

GAS TENSIONS SIMMER THE CASPIAN SEA

On 17 March 2013, Iran launched its second domestically built destroyer, the Jamaran-2. However, unlike the first Jamaran destroyer, which was launched in the Persian Gulf, the Jamaran-2 was launched in the Caspian Sea and will be stationed in the port city of Bandar Anzali, roughly 240 kilometres north of Tehran. Iran’s latest move to assert itself militarily in the Caspian is only the latest in a series of incendiary measures taken by the five states in the Caspian Sea littoral: Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia. The Caspian Sea has become increasingly volatile over the last few years with each nation on its shores upgrading, or planning to upgrade, their military capabilities. The simmering tensions in the Caspian Sea could even boil over into naval warfare.

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GEORGIA, RUSSIA AND THE WEST: WHAT’S NEXT?

GEORGIA, RUSSIA AND THE WEST: WHAT’S NEXT?

In a result which many believe could mark a considerable departure from Georgia’s fiercely pro-Western stance, it was announced on 02 October 2012, that the loose coalition of opposition parties united under billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili ‘Georgian Dream’ banner defeated the United National Movement (UNM) party of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. The result highlights how the release of the prison torture video appears to have galvanised an opinion held by many, that despite sweeping to power on a ‘law and order’ ticket and being a darling of the West, there has been growing concern within Georgia about the pervasive and brutal control administered by the state. Whilst the result of the election may now be a certainty, it remains unclear whether or not this is also a sign that the Georgian public no longer share the ambitions and views of their pro-European president, or if he has simply been punished for his domestic policies in a knee-jerk reaction to the prison scandal. In addition, although both parties have espoused widely similar and equally vague polices loosely based on an improvement of social welfare, Ivanishvili has remained tight-lipped about his international intentions and it remains difficult to ascertain whether Georgia’s future lies in the West with Europe and NATO or the East with Russia and Putin’s Eurasian union.

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IRANIAN TROOPS ON THE MOVE, CASPIAN – THE NEXT FLASHPOINT?

IRANIAN TROOPS ON THE MOVE, CASPIAN – THE NEXT FLASHPOINT?

Martial law was announced in Iran’s northwestern border, adjacent to Turkey, Armenia and Iraq, likely hailing a massive rise of tension in this highly unstable region. Late on 24 June 2010, Iranian media reported that subdivisions of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and military equipment are being rapidly amassed on the border with Azerbaijan and eyewitnesses recorded flanks of tank, rapidly advancing towards the border and onwards, to the Caspian Sea coastline.

Iranian military officials explain that the measure has been necessary due to the presence of the United States and Israeli air force subdivisions on Azerbaijan’s territory. The Iranians also claim that the bombers were brought to Azerbaijan through Georgia, where the United States has considerabel military persence.  Azerbaijan has not commented on this information.

Iran is assessed to have at least three reasons for accumulating arms:

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