Russia’s energy control appears to be soon coming to a halt as Caspian members, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, plan on gaining control over vital areas of the Caspian Sea. Ongoing deliberations over assigning specific demarcations to the five outlying regional members of the Caspian threaten to impede on Russia’s years of energy control within the region and across the EU.

Peaceful discussions amongst Caspian members display a warm and sentimental approach towards an issue that can easily impact Russia’s economic and political success. Although Russia has gone on record to demonstrate public support of sea demarcations, behind-the-scenes negotiations with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan’s leaders appear to be fueling Russia’s agenda in Ukraine, providing a warning to the possibilities of a successful Trans-Caspian Pipeline initiative that does not offer Russia a significant role. The building of Caspian alliances communicates a desire for dynamic partnerships that are dismissive of one dominant player. Russia’s public support of a unilateral decision-making power is being quickly outvoted as plans carry forward toward more innovative models that would elevate the economic and political influences of neighboring countries.

Beginning almost twenty years ago, plans to come to an agreement have been continuously stalled over explicitly defining regional access to the Caspian Sea, mostly due to the abundance of natural oil and gas reserves under its waters. Out of the five neighboring countries Russia’s interests are the least benefited by the Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP). “Big countries, especially, have found it easier to make private deals with President Vladimir Putin’s government. And that has done little for Europe’s most vulnerable economies, whose infrastructure is designed only to take in supplies from Siberia.” (Klapper & Lee) Russia continues to strictly maneuver its agendas amongst EU nations, by manipulating energy distributions as a form of reprisal for ill-approved political advancements concerning the Ukrainian crisis. The attitudes toward the TCP proves not only a demonstration against long-term Russian constraints on the EU but also the possibility that such a plan could prove effective to relieving future economic and power crises amongst EU countries.

Locally, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan have been joined by Azerbaijan, all of whom are openly leading TCP initiatives, as support by the EU grows stronger. EU positions are in favor of the TCP with hopes to break away from Russian-imported gas supplies. “The Kazakh-Turkmen maritime demarcation deal strengthens Turkmenistan's claim on rights to use its sector for whatever purposes it wishes -- building a pipeline, for example -- without consulting the other littoral states. Turkmen and Azerbaijani authorities have already said if both countries agree to build such a pipeline there is no need to seek approval from the other three coastal states,”(Ovozi). Such actions have tried to basically oust Russia, pushing its government to oppose progress on the TCP, citing implications of negative environmental effects and even resorting to possible threats against its diplomatic relations with Caspian members.

Russia’s sentiments seem to be shared by Iran in the disadvantages of the TCP in that it also cannot take part in the main spoils. “The current standing of the two countries in the summit indicates that Russia and Iran -- at least in this phase -- can capitalize on their common concern…According to the Itar-Tass news agency, the countries agreed to increase Russian corporate participation in the development of Iranian oil and gas deposits (such as the South Pars gas field), as well as to cooperate in marketing policy in oil and gas exports and setting up capacity for producing, storing and exporting natural gas in Iran,” (Berti). However the burdens of Iran’s woes are very much different from Russia’s in that Iran may have the ability to change its own fate on the Caspian issue. With relations with the west easing and talks of years of sanctions being lifted, it appears that opportunities for Iran’s recruitment to join the alliances of the TCP are alive and present. “Iran still says that the Caspian and its resources must be subject to joint supervision. Analysts however say that Tehran could moderate this position in exchange for greater involvement in oil and gas export routes. Tehran has been presenting its own pipeline network to the Persian Gulf as the cheapest and shortest export route for Caspian oil,” (MacWilliam). Should Iran decide to change its mindset, the TCP could present an amicable solution to its own economic instability. As a partner in the TCP, Iran would attain the political advancement that could rebuild its geopolitical reputation.

For the U.S., concerns over developing the TCP demonstrate an ulterior motive against its longtime rival, Russia. “Pipelines, ports and power plants are the weapons of what could prove a generation-defining conflict between the U.S. and Russia over how Europe heats and electrifies its homes. Success, U.S. officials say, would mean finally “liberating” former Soviet states and satellites from decades of economic bullying by Moscow.” (Klapper & Lee) Not only would the success of the TCP aid in the demilitarization of Russian economic presence over the EU, it would also push alliances toward EU countries to bid against Russian energy provisions and rely on American counterparts for alternative energy solutions.

Hence, though plans for the TCP continue to remain the excitement of media reports and offstage political meetups in the region, the world’s major power players - Russia and the U.S. - appear to be stacking their chips in a political game of poker. Though initial discussions for the TCP really only involved Russia and its Caspian neighbors, its longtime rival to the far west has found comfort in trying to diminish Russia’s influence. The building of the TCP would mark for the first time a remarkable union between East and West that would see the U.S. try to use it as a “debunker” of Russia’s longtime natural resource coercion within the region and further out amongst EU states. The TCP could even provide some political relief for the crisis being witnessed in Ukraine as it may make Russia more pliable in its negotiations. However, history also demonstrates that Russia tends to not be so eager to lay its concerns to rest and doesn’t stay backed into a corner very long.

 

References


Berti, B. (2007) “Iran Strengthens Its Role in the Caspian Sea and the Central Asian Regions,” The Reut Institute. November 6 http://reut-institute.org/en/Publication.aspx?PublicationId=2652 > accessed 06/21/15.
Klapper, B. & Lee, M. (2015) “U.S., Russia at Odds Over Energy, Cold Ware Style Conflict,” The Washington Times. February 24 <http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/feb/4/us-russia-odds-over-energy-cold-war-style-conflict/?page=allaccessed> accessed 06/20/15.
MacWilliam, I. (1998) “World: Analysis The Caspian's untapped mineral wealth,” BBC News. July 6 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/analysis/127670.stm> accessed 06/20/15.
Ovozi, Q. (2015) “Kazakhs, Turkmen Divide Caspian Spoils Despite Demarcation Doubts,” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty. May 27<http://www.rferl.org/content/caspian-demarcation-oil-kazakhstan-turkmeinstan/27039904.html> accessed 06/20/15.

Dianne A. Valdez

Dianne Valdez just completed her Master’s degree in the International Security and Intelligence Studies Program at Bellevue University in Omaha, NE, USA and continues her interests in the geopolitics of this important region, along with political strife in Africa.

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