Staunton, Apr. 3 – All the countries of the south Caucasus and those adjoining them are dependent on water from rivers that border or cross between more than one country, Leonid Shepilov says. As a result, struggle over access to sufficient quantities of war may be the cause of new wars or, if a regional approach can be found, the source of peace and stability there.
Water shortages in some of the countries in the region, Azerbaijan in particular, are growing, the Moscow analyst says; and that may give Baku’s opponents both a resource to deal with Azerbaijan in negotiations involving other subjects and also make water access the hidden cause of expanded conflicts (ritmeurasia.org/news--2023-03-30--62r141-65485).
Shepilov cites Azerbaijani experts who say that “up to 70 percent” of that country’s water resources” rise in neighboring countries, something that gives those countries leverage over Baku but also helps to explain Azerbaijan’s approach to them. A similar if somewhat less extreme situation obtains in all the other countries of the region.
Some of the countries in the region have already moved to expand cooperation on this point, including Armenia and Iran and Azerbaijan and Georgia, but the others have not; and Shepilov argues that if the region is to develop peacefully, then a region-wide approach to water resources and sharing is going to be required.
It has long been accepted that the conflicts in Central Asia are at bottom about access to water and generally follow the division between water surplus countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and water short countries, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Shepilov’s article represents a rare effort to extend this kind of analysis to the South Caucasus.
While he does not address the immediate policy implications of his analysis, Shepilov’s argument suggests that some in Moscow may now want to try to rope in Turkey and Iran to form a regional water accord that would help the Russian government to maintain its influence in the region much as water issues have done in Central Asia.
At the very least, that possibility deserves to be closely watched.