Last September brought with it major changes to the hotly contested Caspian Sea region. These changes were revealed at the IV Caspian Summit held on September 29th in Astrakhan, Russia.
Of the greatest significance was the unanimous vote by the “Caspian 5” (Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan) to no longer allow foreign military presence in the Caspian region and that all issues that were to arise would be solved between the littoral states only. The political declaration, according to an announcement by Vladimir Putin and signed by all five presidents “sets out a fundamental principle for guaranteeing stability and security, namely, that only the Caspian littoral states have the right to have their armed forces present on the Caspian.” 
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani echoed this sentiment stating “there is consensus among all the Caspian Sea littoral states that they are capable of maintaining the security of the Caspian Sea and military forces of no foreign country must enter the sea.” The five further agreed to expand cooperation on the Caspian Sea in terms of meteorology, natural disasters, and environmental protection.  The declaration also revealed clear formulations on the delimitation of the seabed with each country having exclusive sovereign rights to a 15 mile area.  This puts to rest an issue that had been contested since the breakup of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the new independent states. Apart from being a unique body of water in terms of its bio and ecological resources, the Caspian Sea comes with a massive amount of oil and gas reserves, an estimated 18 billion tons with proved reserves of four billion tons. These numbers put the Caspian Sea directly behind the Persian Gulf in terms of the world’s largest oil and gas reserves. 
This declaration also outlined many other projects in the works for this region – a major one being the joint construction of a railroad that would encircle the Caspian Sea, connecting key Caspian ports and cutting transportation time in half. The five states also signed an emergency prevention and response agreement which called for joint efforts in responding to emergencies in the region.  Additionally, plans were revealed for a joint emergency response exercise to take place in 2016 that will test the capabilities and partnerships between the nations and develop procedures of notifying and coordinating rescue units. 
Disguised underneath these projects, exercises, cooperation, and initiatives is a very real threat to the United States and NATO. Russia and Iran have long felt threatened by the possibility of a foreign military presence in the Caspian Sea and Moscow was determined to find a way to ensure it would not lose any more influence in the global energy sector (this in light of Europe slowly but surely diversifying away from Russian gas after the Ukrainian crisis began). The best way to do this was to bring these nations into the fold of Kremlin interests, while making them feel their own interests were also being served. By strengthening relations in their own backyard Russia has been able to increase influence and gain back power in the region. Shutting NATO out of the region also significantly increases Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan’s dependence on Moscow in many different aspects.  Another added bonus is that a clear alliance made up of Iran, Russia, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan, Ukraine (absent any ‘outsider presence’) would be comparatively easy to control. 
The effects of this agreement have already resulted in major changes to relations between Caspian nations and the United States. For years Azerbaijan has welcomed American-Azeri relations by stepping up logistical support for NATO operations in Afghanistan and even serving in Afghanistan as part of the ISAF, but relations have clearly cooled between the two nations. There were also serious talks between Kazakhstan and the United States for building a base on the border in Aktau that would cater to the needs of the United States and NATO troops, but since the signing of this declaration the project has been halted. Finally, the geopolitical shift in the region has resulted in the closing of the North route for NATO military equipment being sent to Afghanistan. Prior to this Caspian Summit agreement the United States had played an active role in helping Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan bolster their military defenses and develop their own navies.  The maintaining of close relations in this region was of great political and strategic importance to the United States, not only due to its vast oil and gas riches (originally outside of Russia’s control) but its strategic location that connects it with many regions of Western interest.
Other ways that Russia has benefited from this deal include: the creation of a rapid response force unfurling along the Caspian Sea coast as a means to extend influence over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave and its troops in the Armenian Gyumri base; jumpstarting cooperation with Giorgi Margvelashvili, the new Georgian Prime Minister; maintaining the ability to block Georgian and Azerbaijan pipelines; improving relations with Turkmenistan; beginning plans for building a pipeline with Turkey (named the Turkish Stream) out to Europe, which will compete with the Trans-Anatolia Gas Pipeline project (sponsored not coincidentally by the US, EU, and Azerbaijan). 
The United States has another reason to worry about being blocked from the region – Chechnya. In Azerbaijan, jihadists from the Jamaat (Community) Group are already operating and maintaining connections with Chechen Islamists, the Caucasus Emirate, and Syria’s Islamic State: the attack on Eurovision in 2012 and the murder of several Shiite clerics all carry their hallmarks. This insurgency is threatening to turn the region into one of the most ungovernable locations in the world where neither aggressive use of military/intelligence force (counterterrorism operations courtesy of Russia) nor engaged economic assistance has helped the situation. With the United States not being able to join together with forces in the region this threat will not just remain present but will likely only continue to grow. 
Arguably, the signing of this agreement to ban foreign militaries has been the biggest game-changer to take place in the Caspian over the last 20 years. The West not being able to be involved in the region not only decreases energy development and security in the oil and gas-rich Caspian sea basin, but also wounds in several other respects: it reduces the ability to deter adversaries in the region against attacks; it weakens what were growing U.S. alliances; it allows Moscow to project its power over the other Caspian nations with little interference; it cuts off access to ports for deployments to the Middle East; it does not allow for responses to humanitarian crises in the region; and it does not allow for the U.S. to project its own power and reach as easily as it once did. All of these make the United States and NATO much weaker than before the Summit began. Round One in this heavyweight prize fight has clearly gone to the Russian bear.
Dettoni, J. (2014). “Russia and Iran Lock NATO Out of Caspian Sea.” The Diplomat. Retrieved from http://thediplomat.com/2014/10/russia-and-iran-lock-nato-out-of-caspian-sea/
PressTV. (2014). “No foreign military force must enter Caspian region: Rouhani.” PressTV.ir. Retrieved from http://www.presstv.ir/detail/2014/09/29/380453/no-foreign-force-in-caspian-region/
Belinksi,S. (2014). “Caspian Sea Could Be Key To Russian Control Of Eurasian Energy Markets.” Oilprice.com. Retrieved from http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Caspian-Sea-Could-Be-Key-To-Russian-Control-Of-Eurasian-Energy-Markets.html
PressTV. (2014). “No foreign military force must enter Caspian region: Rouhani.” PressTV.ir. Retrieved from http://www.presstv.ir/detail/2014/09/29/380453/no-foreign-force-in-caspian-region/
TASS, (2014) “Real breakthrough reached at 4th Caspian Summit – Putin.” TASS Russian News Agency. Retrieved from http://tass.ru/en/russia/751856
Sputniknews. (2014). “Countries bordering the Caspian Sea will hold joint emergency exercises in 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday.” Sputniknews.com Retrieved from http://sputniknews.com/military/20140929/193422433.html
Belinksi, S. (2014). “Caspian Sea Could Be Key To Russian Control Of Eurasian Energy Markets.” Oilprice.com. Retrieved from http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Caspian-Sea-Could-Be-Key-To-Russian-Control-Of-Eurasian-Energy-Markets.html
Armanian, N. (2015). “Turning point in Eurasia: Azerbaijan distances itself from the USA and the EU.” TheFifthColumnews.com. Retrieved from http://thefifthcolumnnews.com/2015/06/turning-point-in-eurasia-azerbaijan-distances-itself-from-the-usa-and-the-eu/
Cohen, A. (2012). “Anti-Terrorism Operation in North Caucuses Exposes Russia’s Vulnerabilities.” TheDailySignal.com. Retrieved from http://dailysignal.com/2012/10/23/anti-terrorism-operation-in-north-caucasus-exposes-russias-vulnerabilities/
Another government but the same problem in Latvia
Latvia is on the brink of a social explosion. Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš’s statement cold serve as the impetus to it. In an interview with LNT’s programme 900 sekundes last week he said that “Latvia is currently unable to significantly raise the wages of teachers, because it would require either increasing the budget deficit or higher taxes.” This statement was made despite all promises to teachers made by the previous government. The head of the government cynically reminded that compared to other countries, Latvia has too many teachers per its number of pupils.
In the morning of Wednesday, February 13, he told that the promise by his fellow party member, ex-Minister of Education and Science, Kārlis Šadurskis, had been made in relation to school reform. The increase included in the Latvian state budget of 2019 had actually been an effort to avoid the reduction of the size of teacher salaries, the PM explained. Thus he insisted that there were no plans to increase salaries, just to keep them at the same level. To all appearances school reform will raise questions. The government is not going to fire teachers directly, it plans to reduce the number of schools and as a result teachers will be forced to quit.
According to the news that the Riga City Council is planning to shut down two schools and merge eight, the promises not to cut the number of teachers are forgotten. The new government which only few weeks ago struggled for people trust, does not care about people’s loyalty any more.
Such behaviour could be easily regarded by Latvians as betrayal and an insult. So the new government could not even fight the results of short-sighted social policy not to mention the needed fight with the causes of such problems.
According to Statistical Yearbook of Latvia 2018, public and private pre-school education institutions’ pedagogical staff (at the beginning of 2017 school year) in the public sector counts 10 633 persons. These professionals monthly earn about 800 euro.
Is it a big problem to find the source of financing such vulnerable sphere as education?
That’s for sure, people, who are near our children, give knowledge, spend a lot of time with them, who are responsible for Latvian future should not make ends meet.
For instance, government does not make any difficulties for the realization of ambitious military projects. It has become known that from 2018 to 2021, Latvia plans to invest about €50 million annually into military infrastructure, the ministry of National Defence said January 25, reports LETA. The bulk of the funds will go to the Ādaži military base.
€50 million annually would be a substantial help to Latvian teachers! Unfortunately, teachers are not so important for the country image, so they will continue not to live, but to exist.
Expansion of Georgia’s Black Sea Ports: Modus Vivendi for Georgia
Over the past several months, a whole range of actions has taken place to expand all of Georgia’s existing and future Black Sea ports. These moves, in their entirety, could have geopolitical significance on at least the regional level as it will help further connect the country to the world maritime routes, increase the country’s transit potential and also enhance its position when it comes to China’s multi-billion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Several weeks ago, the European Union decided to financially support the Anaklia Deep Sea Port. In a document published by the European Commission regarding the development of the ‘Trans-European Transport Network’, it is stated that 233 mln Euros have been allocated for financing the 2nd phase of the Anaklia Deep Sea Port. It is also noted in the project that hundreds of millions of Euros have been assigned for the construction of the rail lines and highways throughout Georgia which will lead to the Anaklia Deep Sea Port. Moreover, the German Development Bank (DEG) together with the Dutch development bank have also decided to invest in Anaklia.
Further south, in Poti, a decision was made to construct a multimodal transit terminal. The facility will have modern equipment able to store up to 60,000 tons of fertilizer. Wondernet Express, the international logistics company behind the project, will invest $20 million in the project.
International port operator APM Terminals, along with Poti New Terminals Consortium, have submitted a conceptual design for the expansion of the APM Terminals’ Poti Sea Port. The project entails a 14.5-meter water depth at the 700-meter quay wall and 25 hectares of land for the bulk operation yard and covered storage facilities for various cargo types, including grain, ore, and minerals.
The US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has issued a loan of $50 million to Pace Group to develop a multi-functional marine terminal in Georgia’s Black Sea port of Poti, aimed at expanding its operational capacities.
In Batumi, it was agreed that the expansion of the port will take place with the construction of an additional terminal.
It was even announced by the Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development Giorgi Kobulia that the discussion of a ferry line between Georgia and the EU has been renewed.
Overall, these decisions show that there is a certain progress being made on Georgia’s Black Sea ports development and their inclusion in the world maritime network. This global financing from Europe to the US also shows how these geopolitical players regard the South Caucasus and Georgia in particular. One could surmise that the geopolitical projection of those global companies is based upon the idea that the situation in Georgia will remain stable and that Georgian-Russian relations are unlikely to take a confrontational course (at least from the mid-term perspective).
But this expansion of Georgia’s sea port infrastructure could also lead to increased interest from China in the Georgian transit corridor. I argued in a previous article for GEORGIA TODAY that, although Georgia does not figure in China’s BRI, the Chinese project is an evolving one. I suggested in the same article that over time, new corridors would appear; that the BRI, rather than being a static initiative, is in fact a model which will constantly adjust to rising opportunities.
It might be suggested that a more developed infrastructure will eventually draw the Chinese to Georgia’s Black Sea ports. The above-mentioned developments at Anaklia, Poti and Batumi can be considered the first stage in this process.
Taking a global perspective of these economic developments, I will argue that one of the scenarios in which Georgia and all the neighboring countries will reap benefits, is when as many world actors as possible have stakes in the Georgian economic corridor. It would be a certain modus vivendi for Georgia’s future development.
Analysts often argue that there is a solely military solution to Georgia’s problem with Russia. However, it is suggested here that yet another, and probably more accurate, solution to the Georgian dilemma for everyone (including the Russians) would be a Georgia where every great player has economic interests and is forced to upkeep the geopolitical security in the country for those very interests.
Author’s note: First published in Georgia Times
Trump buys Lithuania, EU cannot stop it
The US President Donald Trump is no doubt a successful businessman who rules his country as if it is a huge enterprise. And this kind of management, to his mind, should lead to success. And very often it really works. As a wise leader he uses different tools to reach his goals. Thus, the most cunning one, which the US exploits in Europe – is indirect influence on the EU countries to gain the desired aim. The EU just becomes a tool in “capable hands” of the US.
Let us give the simple example. Last week the Ministry of National Defence of Lithuania announced that the Lithuanian Air Force Base in Šiauliai would get de-icing equipment for the aircraft. It would be acquired according to an agreement signed by the Ministry of National Defence and the AF Security Assistance and Cooperation Directorate (AFSACD) on behalf of the Government of the United States of America.
It is known that the new equipment is capable of removing ice from aircraft at the necessary height which allows the Šiauliai Air Base to support bigger aircraft of the Alliance, such as C-17 – one of the largest transport aircraft capable of moving a large number of soldiers and large amounts of cargo.
It is said that “the procurement for the Lithuanian Air Force Base will fill a critical capability gap and allow the Base personnel to carry out cold weather operations, as well as support the NATO Air Policing Mission. The equipment will also be used for providing servicing for the aircraft of the NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battalion Battle Group-contributing countries and other NATO allies at the Air Base.”
But according to data, only three C-17s belongs to NATO. The US, in its turn, has 222 C-17s in service as of Jan. 2018. Among EU member states the only country that has C-17A ERs is the United Kingdom with 8 C-17A ERs in use. But The United Kingdom is in the process of leaving the organization. So, it is logical to assume that the most interested country in deploying C-17 in Lithuania is the US, not the EU or even NATO. And of course Lithuania cannot even dream of having such planes.
The second issue which is even more important is the fact that the agreement of approximate value of USD 1.03 million is financed from the European Security Assistance Fund (ESAF). Lithuania is not able to share the burden.
So, nothing depends on Lithuania in this issue. It only gives permission.
In the recent years Lithuania’s procurement from the US has grown significantly. The ministry of National Defence is currently in negotiations with the US department of Defence for procuring JLTV all-terrain vehicles.
Unfortunately, being a member of the EU, Lithuania so hardly depends on the US in military and security spheres that it often mixes up its real needs, responsibilities to the EU with the US interests in the region. Such approach could seriously complicate the relations with neighbouring Russia and Belarus which Lithuania borders. These two countries are interested in Lithuania as an economic partner. But if Lithuania will pose military threat to them, deploying US military equipment, these states could terminate any economic cooperation.
Is it a cooperation or manipulation and who will benefit?
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