Putin-Aliyev-Rukhani Meeting: Prospects for Development of Cooperation in the Caspian Region
August 26, 2019
On 26 August 2019, a round table was held at the Agency for Strategic Initiatives on the topic "Putin-Aliyev-Rukhani Meeting: Prospects for the Development of Cooperation in the Caspian Region".
In recent years, there has been an active development of trilateral relations between Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan. A deepening of economic cooperation and the active development of the investment market can be observed within its framework. This cooperation is significantly strengthened by the North-South transport corridor projects, the development of land communications along the western coast of the Caspian Sea, the construction of a new Kazvin-Astara railway line, the construction of a new road bridge at the Samur (Azerbaijan) - Yarag-Kazmalyar (Russia) checkpoints through the state border.
The participants of the event spoke about these and other issues, as well as about the problems and prospects for further cooperation in the Caspian region:
- Dmitry Egorchenkov - Director of the Institute for Strategic Studies and Forecasts of the RUDN University;
- Maxim Meyer - Chairman of the Expert Advisory Council of Rossotrudnichestvo;
- Igor Korotchenko - Military expert, editor-in-chief of the National Defense magazine;
- Svyatoslav Andrianov - Director of the Center for Political Analysis and Information Security,
along with the representatives of the embassies of Iran and Azerbaijan, orientalists and the Caucasian experts.
The round table was moderated by Director of the Institute for Political Studies Sergey Markov, who noted 3 key aspects to the development of cooperation in the Caspian region:
“The first aspect is based on the main project of the Troika - the North-South transport corridor. The corridor is directly related to high-tech development. Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran are transit countries. North-South should unite two large high-tech regions - the South of India, where rapid technological development is taking place, high rates of economic growth are recorded, and Northern Europe, which acts as a kind of laboratory for creating the most humanistic forms of capitalism.
The second aspect is the development of the Caspian region, which focuses on the oil and gas potential. At the same time, the potential of biological resources remains unrealized and its development is proceeding slowly. Looting of these resources is also widespread. The creation of a transnational corporation by Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, which would not only produce, but also restore the sturgeon population again, would be promising. Thus, Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran could become leaders in creating such an effective model for the use of biological resources.
The third aspect is the interaction in the conditions of high technology and sanctions. Today, sanctions have been used in an absolutely massive way. Economic sanctions are used to achieve political goals and vice versa. The United States began to apply sanctions against its allies. Thus, sanctions have become a norm in the development of any country. Countries that defend their sovereignty happen to be in a special risk zone. Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran are among states of this kind," concluded Markov.
In his introduction speech Svyatoslav Andrianov drew the attention of the audience to the geostrategic and military-political aspects, the presence of which complicate the trilateral relations between Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan. He suggested considering the possible reasons for the cancellation of the 3-way meeting of the presidents of Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan planned for late August of this year.
The following is the text of the expert’s presentation.
“We are not considering the officially announced reason, since it is hard to believe that two days before the summit it became known that the schedules of the presidents do not match. This does not happen. In our opinion, the most probable reason for the breakdown of the meeting is the disagreement on the agenda. Consider some of these problematic issues, including the Caspian agenda.
1) The problem of the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline. Iran has always been opposing the construction of the gas pipeline along the bottom of the Caspian Sea, as it could seriously damage the region’s ecology. After all, in fact, we are talking about the introduction of Turkmenistan to the gas market of the EU through Azerbaijan. Tehran, in turn, offers neighbours the use its infrastructure for these purposes.
Last autumn, the President of Turkmenistan, Mr. Berdimuhamedov stated that the adoption of the “Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea”, created the necessary legal framework for laying the pipeline. “Now, for the implementation of this project demanded by life, all that is needed is the consent of the project’s participating countries and an environmental impact assessment that meets strict international requirements,” Berdymukhamedov said. However, it is this examination that can become a stumbling block for the gas pipeline project.
Russia's position on this issue can be assessed according to the statement of Ambassador on Special Assignments Igor Bratchikov, who noted that making pipelines along the bottom of the Caspian Sea is excluded if any of the Caspian countries objects to this. Bratchikov explained that the Protocol on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in a transboundary context “establishes the right of each of the five states to participate in a comprehensive environmental review, and even at the design stage of such marine activities that could affect the Caspian’s natural environment and damage it”.
According to our information, the position of the Russian Foreign Ministry voiced by Bratchikov reflects the general mood of Russian officials on the issue of the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline. Moscow believes that the main goal of the gas pipeline is to supply gas from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to Turkey and Europe, bypassing the interests of Russia and Iran. Russia and Iran have previously opposed that Turkmen gas flows through the bottom of the sea to Azerbaijan, and then through the Trans-Anatolian and Trans-Adriatic pipelines to the markets of southern Europe."
Indeed, if you think about it, TANAP is essentially an echo of the Nabucco project with a transport volume of 26-32 billion cubic meters per year, where Turkmenistan also acted as a source of gas. The EU has not forgotten about Nabucco, although discussions on this subject are conducted mainly in the countries of the former Warsaw Treaty. It is clear that this option is not feasible in practice today, since the construction of the main gas pipeline here requires the consent of all six Caspian states, and the Europeans will definitely not get it.
2) The problem of the convention on the legal status of the Caspian. Iran is outraged by the convention. Activists believe that after all the Islamic Republic has lost. It will get only 11-13% of the Caspian waters, as it was during the USSR. The events have taken an even more serious turn when the official representative of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abbas Mousavi called the assumptions that the legal regime of the Caspian Sea defined.
Azerbaijani analysts, for their part, are trying to convince, first of all, probably themselves, that the “Caspian agenda” could hardly cause the postponement of the summit of presidents Putin, Aliyev and Rouhani. Due to them, rumors began to be circulated about the possible malaise of the Iranian president as a reason for postponing the summit, which in our opinion is not true.
3) Syrian issues. Previously hidden disagreements began to appear between Moscow and Tehran over the influence on the government of President Bashar Assad. This competition further complicates the outcome of the protracted conflict. Both Russia and Iran want to receive both geostrategic and economic benefits in Syria. However, backstage maneuvers, as well as reports of clashes between Russian forces and pro-Iranian government units in northern Syria, seem to be in the past.
According to our experts, the personnel changes in the highest echelons of the Syrian special services were the result of systematic work with Mr. Assad’s brother, Maher, who is considered a pro-Iranian player. These shifts partly eased the tension. It should be remembered that on 8 July 2019, by the decision of Assad, the head of the Syrian National Security Bureau, Ali Mamluk, was appointed Syrian Vice President of Security Affairs, and his place was taken by General Mohammed Dib Zaitoun, who previously headed the General Intelligence Directorate (state security).
The general was a chief negotiator in the signing of agreements to return the areas of Homs to the control of the Syrian authorities. He, like Mamluk, is Sunni. The biggest change in the power structures was the resignation of the head of the Air Force Intelligence Directorate - the most influential Syrian intelligence agency - General Jamil Hassan, who is an Alawite and, according to the available information, gravitates to Iran.
It should be noted that in the military operation in the Syrian Arab Republic we gained experience of an unprecedented level of cooperation with Iran. Iran helped us a lot with the ground forces. While cooperation has not stopped, however, misunderstandings are intensifying. At this stage, Moscow and Tehran have separated, trying not to enter into frequent conflicts on roads and roadblocks. However, orders issued by military commanders are not always executed by those who are not direct subordinates. It also becomes apparent that Turkey and Iran are becoming open rivals in the territory of the UAR.
Thus, in our opinion, the current contradictions between Moscow and Tehran, some of which were stated above, served as true reasons for postponing the meeting," concluded Andrianov.