Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Moscow Losing Its Former Dominance in the Caspian Basin, Russian Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 18 – Despite Moscow’s launch of a cruise missile last October from a Russian ship on the Caspian, an event that some Russians saw as confirmation that that body of water was still a “Russia lake,” the Russian government has been losing its earlier dominance there in many sectors, according to Petr Bologov.

            As the Russian journalist points out in a commentary published this week, “the Caspian direction always was on the periphery of Russian foreign policy concerns,” something that did not change even when enormous reserves of oil were found on its seabed (

            In Soviet times, Moscow and Tehran divided the sea into two unequal parts; but immediately after the USSR fell apart, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan “declared that they do not recognize” that earlier division. And since that time, there have been many rounds of talks but little progress toward coming up with a new division of the sea.

            As a result of that lack of determinacy, Bolotov says, outside powers, including China, the EU, Turkey and the US, have gotten involved in development projects that earlier Russia would have played the dominant role and they have developed trade with the littoral states at Russia’s expense.

            Ports in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan now handle six times as much cargo traffic as the three Russian ports, Astrakhan, Oli, and Makachkala; and what is more, traffic in the non-Russian ports is growing while that in the Russian ports is declining or at best relatively stable at a low level.

            This pattern reflects the growing economic cooperation among the littoral states from which Russia has been largely excluded and in which Iran and Western countries are playing an increasing role.  Things are better with regard to extractive industries where Russia is still dominant but they may not remain that way in the future.

            In short, Bologov observes, the Caspian basin is increasingly viewed as an east-west crossing point, linking China in the East with Europe and the Atlantic world in the West rather than a north-south one that could tie Russia to Iran and the greater Middle East. If that continues, Russia’s role in the region will only continue to fall.

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