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The Caspian Five and the Azerbaijan Factor

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The Caspian Five and the Azerbaijan Factor

The Caspian Five, Changes in Eurasia, and the Azerbaijan Factor

By Rostislav Ishchenko

Translated from Russian by J.Hawk

Its geographical location makes Azerbaijan the key strategic spot at the intersection of routes to the Caucasus, Iran, and to the Central Asia through the Caspian Sea, therefore we should expect attempts to spread the zone of conflict into its territory. Against the background of the systemic crisis which has been destroying the post-Cold War global political and economic system for over a decade, Eurasia is experiencing the growth of integration processes which are gradually leading to the emergence of a new integrated entity. Its role in international politics and economy will grow exponentially over th enext decade. I am referring to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). After the Ufa summit during which India and Pakistan joined the SCO, the organization has consolidated the entire Southern, Eastern, and Central Asia and has reached the boundaries of the Middle East. Moreover, now SCO includes three out of five BRICS states. The three most powerful in military, political, and economic terms, and the ones with the greatest population. In actuality from now on the SCO can to a large extent set the BRICS agenda. The level of events held at Ufa, which included SCO and BRICS leader meetings indicate that not only are the Eurasian integration processes interconnected, but that they may expand beyond the region and claim a global role.

From East to West.

If one were to look at the SCO’s dynamic development, we’d see that the organization is gradually moving from East to West. Since economy and trade are more important foundations for a long-term relationship than temporarily coinciding military and political interests, it’s easy to predict the ultimate objective of SCO’s Eurasian project. The organization needs to have direct contact with EU’s borders. Right now the biggest and most promising SCO project is the Chinese New Silk Road economic belt idea, supported by Russia and Kazakhstan. It entails several land trade arteries which will tie together Eurasian trade along East-West and West-East lines. The project is a mortal blow to US global interests, since in the future it will shift EU’s economic priorities from the Transatlantic to Transasian trade. Russia can provide not only transit services, a resource base and a range of unique (including space) technologies, but also the main “service”: a security umbrella. Russia’s nuclear potential, military technologies, fleet development: Russia’s–in the Northern part of the Pacific and China’s–in the Southern part of the Pacific and India’s–in Indian Ocean are establishing the necessary and sufficient foundation of security. Moreover, each participant will bear a lower burden than the total US burden, and the collective effectiveness of these defensive programs is much greater.

The only tool the US has in its arsenal to stop this unfavorable to itself scenario (and Iran’s change of SCO status from observer to a permanent member will happen in the near future) is to create a zone of instability (cordon sanitaire) along EU’s entire land border. Already today Iraq and Syria are destroyed and suffering from chaos of a civil war, a similar process is unfolding in Ukraine, Saudi Arabia has been drawn into a hopeless conflict in Yemen, the attempts to destabilize Belarus are continuing (although lately they are not as overt as before). Poland and the Baltic States have accepted the role of conduits of US influence and are actively provoking conflict between Russia and the EU. In recent months Turkey has become more actively involved in the Middle East conflict, with the effect of reigniting its internal conflicts (specifically against the Kurds). And then there’s the eternal ISIS. Against that background, it is important to the US to spread instability into the Caucasus and especially into the Caspian region. Moving the conflict zone toward the Caspian would allow reaching the heart of SCO and create unlimited possibilities for action in Central Asia (where the majority of New Silk Road branches intersect). Therefore the cordon sanitaire along EU’s borders which theoretically could be broken at any point, is supplemented by the cutting of the trade routes which tie SCO together, and next thing you know SCO is no longer in the mood to spread westward. In these circumstances SCI will have to fight not to spread its influence, but to survive.

Azerbaijan is the key to the Caspian.

As we know, the Caspian Sea is bordered by the states of the so-called “Caspian Five”: Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan. Kazakhstan and Russia belong to SCO, Iran is an observer which has a good chance to become a full-fledged member. Moreover, Teheran is strongly anti-US and one can’t expect a change in the relationship in th enear future. Turkmenistan is surrounded by SCO countries and Iran. This leaves Azerbaijan which has the status of cooperation partner in the SCO. It has a similar status (Eastern Partnership) with the EU. Moreover, Azerbaijan is on the border of the conflict zone in the Greater Middle East. It has a complicated relationship with Iran and has its own unresolved conflict with Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh. There already were attempts to introduce instability into the Caucasus through Armenia. The situation along the line of contact in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone grew more tense at the same time. It can hardly be a coincidence.

Since  geographical location makes Azerbaijan the key strategic spot at the intersection of routes to the Caucasus, Iran, and to the Central Asia through the Caspian Sea, therefore we should expect attempts to spread the zone of conflict into its territory. Now that the conflict was joined by Turkey which supports Azerbaijan, there are now political factors drawing Baku into the Greater Middle East  conflict (in one way or another). Due to a whole range of reasons (which are not the subject of this article) Azerbaijan will find it difficult to rely on the support of multilateral Eurasian institutions. It is not a member of the Collective Security Treaty or the Eurasian Economic Union, it is not a member of SCO. CIS is not an entity capable of rendering swift military or political assistance. Russian assistance on the basis of bilateral relations would require Baku to abandon its traditional policy of neutrality in superpower confrontation which would make ti dependent on Moscow. The only institution on which it can count for actual help and where it can be regarded as an equal is the Caspian Five. All of its states are interested in regional stability and have already undertaken obligations not to allow foreign military or political presence on the Caspian, and to protect the region from destabilization. However, in view of the peculiarities of that institution, one must act preemptively and put the question of collective efforts against potential destabilization of the Caucasus and the Caspian regions on the agenda right now.

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