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Caspian Roadmap: Back or wreck to the future?

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Recently, I came across an interesting outlined roadmap for Caspian countries, written in 2010 with predictions for 2025. 5 years down and 10 years to go, let us review the scenarios and elaborate on which one is the most eligible for the future of the Caspian Sea region.

It is year 2025 and the Caspia Inc. is in formation. We are witnessing a multi-polar global world order with multiple regional power- centers, where economic competition is much more highlighted than the old geopolitical one, sort of reminiscent of the cold-war era. Great powers of the world are cooperative instead of competitive in the world affairs. Caspian Sea region is a globally recognized and significant oil and gas exporting region while Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are enjoying the most FDI- friendly profile and a semi- democratic regime. When it comes to foreign interest in the region, Western and Russian entities are dominating over the others.

Apart from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, geographically and resource- wise Turkmenistan is also a significant part of the Caspian Sea region. Due to the long, dark years of authoritarian regime and isolated style of governing, the country is unable to attract significant FDIs and stretch its outreach of influence. Another troubling sign are the instabilities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, having a spillover effect on other Central Asian border countries. The regime in Turkmenistan is weak and with practically no popular support, therefore susceptible to social uprisings. The opium trade, originating in Afghanistan, is booming.

Russia is still the biggest power in the region, but showcases no interest in reinstating its former control over Central Asia. The most prolific trading exchange is still between Russia and Kazakhstan, although relations with the EU are also at the highest level. Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey are now all member states of the EU and integrated in the European common market. Apart from Russia, another major force in the region in China, serving as a trading partner for the Central Asian authoritarian regimes, including Turkmenistan. Same goes for Iran which is not actively involved in the region, apart from gas collaborations with Turkmenistan and occasional cooperation with Armenia. The US is less important than the other outlined players.

Trans- Caspian pipeline has not (yet) been constructed. Azerbaijan is mostly capitalizing on the BTC and the new Nabucco pipeline, also pumping Russian gas. Turkmenistan is mostly transiting its gas to China, although Russia and its Gazprom is also still an important partner. Kazakhstan is mostly reliant on the CPC pipeline and the gas pipeline to China.

Because the world economic crisis has been combated on every level with much international cooperation in the global community, there are no negative effects and over-politicizing of economic and other affairs. China and India are the main generators of growth. Oil price is stable and the LNG market has expanded to the level that makes gas an increasingly global commodity. Henceforth, geopolitical competition has become obsolete; however, there is still competition at the company level.

In this overview, the world in 2025 in my opinion looks like the scenario everyone pacifistic and optimistic at heart dreams of, but not something that is likely ever to happen, let alone in 10- years time.

Realistically speaking, the most viable part of the forecast, judging from the current situation in international politics, is the part on the multi- polar world order; we see signs and struggles for it on a daily basis. From the collaborations within the BRICS format, clearly underpinning the American dominance, Asia rising and Latin America moving further away from the dominance of the Northern Hemisphere, and to many other numerous regional outlets gaining momentum and credibility (such as, for example, the ASEAN common market initiative), the world is clearly escaping the reins of the leftovers from the cold war era and the supporting premise of the lone superpower. I believe that these trends will become even more vibrant and affective in 2025, with:

– fully working and prolific BRICS bank and monetary fund, successfully overshadowing the current dominance of IMF and the World Bank;

– integrated and economically more efficient South- East Asia (The US`s foreign policy feature “pivot to Asia” will likely become a global redirection);

– strong regional hegemons instead of one world superpower and much more vibrant and balanced world politics.

I also think that the prediction for Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan sustaining the high momentum of foreign FDIs is likely to be true in 2025 as it is in 2015. Additionally, as the current trends show, countries are very likely to have escaped the Dutch disease due to the establishment of stabilization oil funds. In Azerbaijan, growth of the non- oil sector has surpassed the growth of the oil sector for the first time in 2012, signaling the success of such policies. Of course, such directions and policies can be subject to change in the future, depending on the governmental preferences, world economic situation and energy trends of the future (green vs. fossil fuels).

When it comes to Turkmenistan, the new president Berdimuhamedov seems to be redirecting the country onto a different course. With an enhanced relationship with other Central Asian nations, Russia and many high- level visits to China, the country seems to be opening up. The most significant investments are made from Saudi Arabia and Iran, but these have to be carefully balanced in order not to spill over the stronger and more significant religious standpoint to otherwise very secular Turkmenistan. But the data from the country does not seem to match these efforts and many fear that a lot of it is just smoke and mirrors. In 2014, overview of the country`s economic freedom showed a small decline from the previous year. It showed no significant gain in the FDIs to the country`s economic sector, which matched the still present relative disengagement from the international community, apart from the gas trade. With the recently erected avant-garde monuments for the president, the country seems to have fallen back to its old trail.

Highlighting the destabilizing factors in the near vicinity of the region, the authors of course could not predict the two major ones: the Ukrainian crisis, poisoning the inter- state and inter- continental relations, damaging the overall economic progress and stability, and the rise of ISIS; the latter has been caused by the security loophole, left by the American forces in the Middle- Eastern region, and fueled by various extremisms, resulting from the overall failed western policies in this part of the world. Afghanistan of course is not to be neglected, the country is still very volatile to changes and the concerns over the overall rise in the international terrorist activities, many of which is supported and organized by ISIS, are also worth every consideration.

When it comes to the overall relationship between Russia, Caspian littoral states and the EU, the scenario is utterly wrong. Unfortunately, due to the Ukrainian crisis, the relations between Russia and the West are at its worst since the fall of the Berlin wall. The current trends seem to indicate a stronger Russian turn to Asia, again supporting the theory of a multi- polar world order, gaining in credibility, man power and capital. Additionally, the vision of Turkey and Azerbaijan being part of the EU common market seems outrageous for the moment, especially with the increased Islamophobia in Europe.

When it comes to pipelines, the prediction of the Caspia, Inc. scenario definitely has some misperceptions. Although BTC will stay an important infrastructural pathway, Nabucco pipeline and the Russian counterpart, South Stream, were both cancelled and future projects are manifold and depending on the at-the-moment political support. Since the Trans- Caspian pipeline largely rests upon the potentially resolved issue of the status of the Caspian Sea, it is hard to tell what will happen in the upcoming 10 years. The last major breakthrough was reached last year, when all the Caspian littoral states agreed to lock foreign (military) vessels out of the Sea, therefore not fully applying the UNCLOS anytime in the future. This was a great strategic victory for Iran and Russia and it makes one wonder what can be found between the lines of this agreement. It might be possible that both, Russia as well as Iran, will agree on the border limitations sooner than expected as a compensation for this agreement, therefore granting full access to hidden natural resources to all the littoral states for exploitaton. Such silver lining makes it easier to understand why the newcomers to the Caspian club, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, would agree to such terms in the first place, especially considering how some of them, namely Azerbaijan, were lobbying for the complete application of UNCLOS for the Caspian. But there are no clear signs on the agreement for the Caspian Sea status just yet, but these recent events show it might be one of a kind, sui generis status.

The cancelation of the Nabucco pipeline project meant new life for the Azerbaijan/Turkey financed Trans- Anatolian pipeline, with the Baku- chosen Trans- Adriatic pipeline to serve as the western leg of the project to Europe. Recent events show greater tendency of Caspian littoral states and Turkey to serve as major energy/ transportation players and therefore gaining more independence and profit from this status. It might happen in the future that the new pipeline infrastructure to Europe will be neither Russian nor European, but Central Asian.

Therefore, we can conclude that the scenario of Caspia, Inc is not likely to ever fully realize because the relations in the international community are what they are. Although the cold war is long over that does not mean the old geopolitical rivalries are likely to be forgotten anytime soon. And while the Caspian littoral countries are seemingly headed into a more independent and successful future, there are still many obstacles in the way regarding economy and internal politics and all have to be considered with great care. The future of the Caspian therefore seems less harmonious, especially when considering the international community as a whole, and not surprisingly, much more susceptible to political and economic realities to come.

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Eastern Europe

A New Phase of Escalation in the Russia-Ukraine War

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Photo: Grigoriy Sisoev, RIA Novosti

The month of September marked a new phase of escalation in what was being branded as a “grinding war of attrition”. Invading Russian forces, after having lost the momentum thanks to unwavering Ukrainian resistance supported by crucial military assistance from the West, kept narrowing down their military objectives, ultimately failing to achieve even those narrowed down aims virtually leading to a stalemate.

The tables started turning during the early part of September. Armed with cutting-edge Western weaponry and vital intelligence support, Ukrainian Army launched a two-pronged counteroffensive in the South towards Kherson and in the Northeast. While Ukrainians made some gains in the South, startling was their lightning recapture of the territory in the northeast, and even more startling was the rout of the Russian forces, which was such complete and absolute that Ukrainians recaptured more territory in less than a week compared to what Russians were able to take during past many months. The demoralized Russian troops hardly put up a fight and abandoned loads of arms and ammunition during the hastily carried out disordered retreat. Unsurprisingly, the Russian defense ministry sought to obfuscate the rout by cataloging it as a withdrawal aimed at regrouping. 

While the Ukrainian gains demonstrated the high morale and motivation of the Ukrainian troops, traits indispensable for winning wars — the Russian rout once again exposed the material and motivational shortcomings of what was for long regarded as one of the most powerful and capable military machines in the world: the Russian military. Though the Western military and intelligence support played a decisive role in the earlier stalemate and recently in the speedy Ukrainian gains, the heroism and unflinching commitment displayed by the Ukrainian nation and troops against all the odds marks the start of a new chapter in the national history of Ukraine — through which it is emerging as unified than ever.

Since it invaded Ukraine in February this year, Kremlin has been very careful so as not to transmit any signal implying weakness of its military or Putin’s control over the state of affairs within Russia. However, on September 21st, Moscow decreed the first mobilization, though partial, since World War II, which marked an implicit admission that Putin is failing to achieve his military objectives with the available military force. Though there has not been an official word on the exact numbers, media reports claimed that the numbers being mobilized are around 300,000 while other estimated, mostly based on the scale of the draft campaign in Russia reaching up to smaller towns and villages, placed the figure as high as 01 million. Irrespective of the exact numbers, the military draft marks a major escalation in the war and dims the hopes of a rapid Ukrainian triumph over the invading Russian force, which the Western observers started pinning after the lightning Ukrainian gains during the first half of the month.

Putin unquestionably has played a massive gamble. Western media has been reporting numerous incidents of people trying to leave Russia to circumvent being drafted; however, these reports can be highly exaggerated. Nevertheless, it must also be acknowledged that irrespective of how indoctrinated a country’s population is, being recruited forcibly for a seemingly wasted cause is unlikely to receive much traction in Russia. Even though at this time Putin does seem to be too worried about the decline in domestic approval, in the medium to long-term, the draft venture can turn the odds drastically against the Russian President, especially, if the death toll mounts and the campaigns designed to gaslight the masses do not have the desired impact.

As if the draft was not enough, on September 30th, Putin announced annexing four Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine — Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhia. The move marks the biggest annexation of territory since World War II and makes up an estimated 15 to 20 of Ukraine’s landmass. After declaring the inhabitants of the annexed region as “our citizens forever”, the Russian President pledged to defend the Russian land, which as per Russian law also includes the annexed region, employing all available strength and means — phraseology that was translated as another nuclear threat in a long series hurled by the Russian President since the start of the war.

As the lines are being written, the Ukrainian Army has captured the city of Lyman on Donetsk while the Russian defense ministry has acknowledged the takeover again calling it a withdrawal by Russian forces. The takeover of Lyman, however, demonstrates that does not matter how many lines one draws on the map, the actual outcome of the war would be determined on the battlefield, wherein Ukrainians, at least for the time being, have the momentum on their side.

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Eastern Europe

Latvia is inundated with NATO

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Image source: mk.gov.lv

Ukraine has become the excellent excuse for NATO expanding of Europe. The Alliance justified numerous military exercises and weapons supplies to the European countries by the need to response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu said that NATO has to reinforce its presence in the eastern part of the Alliance.

The most active recipients of such support are the Baltic States. It is interesting to note, that they are so involved in the process of foreign weapons and troops deployment on their territories, that do not realize the danger of such political decisions. The U.S. and NATO do not only deploy military contingents and weapons but even start to decide and speak for them in the international arena.

Thus, The United States embassy in Latvia posted footage September 28 of the famous HIMARS rocket system being fired during exercises in Latvia, saying that two M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems were deployed in Latvia last week, one in Riga and one in Liepaja to display their mobility and flexibility. A U.S. HIMARS artillery system destroyed training targets in the Baltic Sea during exercise Namejs 2022, held at the Škede range in Latvia.

“It’s another opportunity to say once again how important Article 5 of NATO is, where an attack on one member of NATO is an attack on all members of NATO,” said John Carwile, United States Ambassador to Latvia.

Though the demonstration was intended to show NATO’s readiness to defend the Baltics, in reality it showed the Alliance’s intention to use such weapons against Russia. The matter is, Moscow’s response will leave Latvia no chance to survive. It would be totally ruined.

NATO decides for Latvia. The country is unhappy to become the main possible target because it was turned into host nation for NATO troops and weapons which openly threaten Russia. In other words the country was fully annexed by NATO troops, weapons, ideas and political decisions. Latvia’s security today does not depend on Riga any more, its territory is inundated with NATO weapons which are more dangerous for the country itself than for much more powerful Russia.

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Eastern Europe

Ukraine war-induced crisis affecting women and girls disproportionately

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A mother and daughter flee violence in Bucha, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine. © UNDP/Oleksandr Ratush

A new UN report reveals how the Ukraine war and its global impacts on food, energy, and finance are affecting women and girls disproportionately, both inside the country and around the world.

The policy paper developed by gender agency UN Women and the Secretary-General’s Global Crisis Response Group, describes how the war has widened gender gaps in hunger, education and poverty, and has also increased gender-based violence.

Dire situation

For example, school-aged girls are now at a higher risk of being forced out of school and into marriage, as a way for desperate families simply to make ends meet.

Women have also reduced their own food intake, so that other family members can have more, amid food price hikes and shortages.

Meanwhile, energy prices have left families with no choice but to continue using low-tech fossil fuels, exposing women and girls to household air pollution, which kills 3.2 million people each year.

UN Women also estimates that around 265,000 Ukrainian women were pregnant when the war broke out and have had to endure physical and health challenges in the past months.

Rural food insecurity

The document notes that women-headed households in Ukraine were already more food insecure before the war, with 37.5 per cent of them experiencing moderate or severe levels of food insecurity, compared to 20.5 per cent of male-headed households.

Currently, rural women in Russian occupied territories are not able to do agricultural work due to high insecurity and lack of resources. However, they are having to accommodate internally displaced people, multiplying their unpaid care and domestic work responsibilities.

Sexual violence on the rise

The report warns of an “alarming” increase in gender-based violence, transactional sex for food and survival, sexual exploitation, and trafficking, not only in Ukraine but worldwide, amid worsening living conditions.

“Systemic, gendered crises require systemic, gendered solutions.  That means ensuring that women and girls, including from marginalized groups, are part of all the decision-making processes.

“That is simply the only way to be certain that their rights and needs are fully taken into account as we respond to the clear facts before us”, said Sima Bahous, UN Women Executive Director.

Recommendations

The analysis highlights that as women continue to bear different and additional burdens of war, they must be represented in all decision-making platforms on de-escalation, conflict prevention, mitigation and other processes in pursuit of peace and security for the people of Ukraine and beyond.

The report calls on the international community to promote the right to food by targeting the specific nutrition needs of women and girls and accelerating the transformation towards more equitable gender-responsive and sustainable food systems.

UN Women and the UN’s Global Crisis Response Group also recommend world leaders to ensure equal access to affordable and sustainable energy, as well as boost reporting on gender statistics and sex-disaggregated data.

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