Staunton, January 25 – Kalmykia, a small republic in the North Caucasus typically ignored except for its Buddhist population and role in international chess, recently has attracted attention for protests against Moscow’s imposition of a former DNR official as the mayor of its capital (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/11/kalmyks-now-protesting-about-more-than.html).
But now, its government is making another move that could have more dramatic consequences than even these anti-Moscow and even anti-Russian demonstrations: Naran Kyurkeyev, its deputy prime minister, says the republic will build a port at Lagan on the Caspian Sea over the next decade (akcent.site/eksklyuziv/7025).
There has been talk about that possibility before, especially given the continuing instability in Daghestan and problems with the Russian port at Astrakhan caused by siltification of its waterways. (See this author’s September 2019 article at jamestown.org/program/kalmykia-seeks-to-be-a-player-on-the-caspian-with-new-port/.)
Such a project seemed implausible only a few months ago not only because it would give a non-Russian republic a potentially crippling ability to block the flow of ships between the Caspian and the Sea of Azov Moscow has used in its war against Ukraine but also allow Kalmykia to assume a greater international role.
But apparently, the problems in Daghestan and Astrakhan are now so dire or the prospects that they will become so are so worrisome that Moscow has given the go ahead by including the Lagan port in its Strategy for the Development of Russian Sea Ports, and the republic is seeking investors for the 41.3 billion ruble (600 million US dollar) project.
Officials began talking seriously about a Lagan port in 1999 after then-Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev raised the possibility in the hopes of shortening Kazakhstan’s trade route to Europe. And since then, Aksenty commentator Anton Chablin, it has periodically surfaced in the media.
Batu Khasikov, the embattled current head of Kalmykia, raised the issue again last year at the Caspian Economic Summit; but most observers dismissed this as his personal pipedream. Now, however, Kyurkeyev’s words suggest that it is something more than that and that money possibly from Kazakhstan, another Central Asian country or China may make it a reality.
Even that prospect will be enough to spark new tensions between Kalmykia, on the one hand, and Moscow and Astrakhan, on the other, given that the Russian government has in the past backed Astrakhan governor Igor Babushkin’s efforts to be the dominant Russian player on the increasingly important Caspian Sea.