US influence seen in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan Caspian cooperation

Paper says US influence seen in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan Caspian cooperation

Karavan web site, Almaty
5 Mar 04

Text of article by Dosym Satpayev, director of the Risk Assessment
Group, entitled “Will there be a Caspian duet?” published by Kazakh
newspaper Karavan web site on 5 March; subheadings inserted
editorially

While Aliyev Sr late President Heydar Aliyev was pinned to his
hospital bed, relations between Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan appeared
temporarily frozen. Kazakhstan’s participation in the
Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was in doubt, for example. Everyone
understood that a presence in this project, an alternative to the
Russian direction, could hit at relations with Moscow.

But the meeting in Astana, at which the leaders spoke about everything
openly and without constraint, dotted the “i’s”. Kazakhstan will
supply oil by the new pipeline. But another question has arisen
concerning security in the Caspian.

Political scientists and economists will, following the Azerbaijani
president’s visit, set about tallying the political and economic
benefits from the meeting. But let us, for a start, cite several
reasons why President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev’s visit attracted
such interest.

Reasons for interest in Azerbaijani president’s visit

First, this was his first visit to our republic as head of state.

Second, Ilham Aliyev is a new player on the political field of Central
Asia, and there is undoubtedly heightened interest in his person.

Third, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, as Caspian neighbours, have
practically no contentious issues and are cooperating closely in
various spheres.

Fourth, this visit was indirectly linked with Caspian topics in
various areas, be it the process of demilitarization of the Caspian or
Kazakhstan’s affiliation to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil line. This was
the main and most symbolic subject, in any event.

Ilham Aliyev came to Kazakhstan not only as president but also as a
lobbyist for the abovementioned oil project. He came for a specific
answer to a specific question: when does Kazakhstan intend to become
part of the oil pipe? This is for Azerbaijan by no means an idle
question, since all the participants in this project long since
arrived at the thought that without Kazakhstan the oil line will be
simply populist.

As the Azerbaijani expert F. Fatulla observes, “it is increasingly
often coming to be a question of the oil in the Azerbaijani sector
being insufficient for filling the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline. But the
problem is not only that of filling this pipeline but also of finding
oil for the Baku-Supsa and Baku-Novorossiysk oil lines that are
already operating and for two major oil refineries.”

It is not known whether Ilham Aliyev was satisfied with the response
of the president of Kazakhstan, who in oriental fashion subtly spoke
about Astana’s interest in the successful implementation of the
Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan project, from the viewpoint of the multi-vector
nature of oil and gas exports included. But, on the other hand,
questions pertaining to the tariffs proposed by Kazakhstan for the
transfer of oil, which did not satisfy Astana, remain.

Will there be enough Kazakh oil?

In addition, Azerbaijan, the United States, Turkey, and other
lobbyists for the oil line could not have failed to have been alerted
by the fact that on the threshold of Ilham Aliyev’s visit the
management of the KazMunayGaz national oil company announced its
decision to begin implementation of the plan for the construction of a
West Kazakhstan-Western China oil line. The legitimate question
arises: where will Kazakh oil flow to the west or the east and will
its quantities be sufficient for filling the two new oil lines plus
the pipe of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, which is already
operating, simultaneously?

Also important for Kazakhstan is the level of political risk in the
countries through which the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil line will run. The
reference is primarily to Georgia, where the change of power has not
reduced the political tension, between Tbilisi and the separatist
regions included. In addition, the Chechen hotbed of instability is
still smouldering, which is reflected in the level of security of the
entire Caucasus region.

Threat of terrorist attacks

It is not surprising that during Ilham Aliyev’s visit Kazakhstan
offered to discuss an initiative for the formation of a regional
anti-terrorist centre of Caspian states. This indicates that
Kazakhstan takes seriously the threat of terrorist acts in the
Caspian, which would strike primarily at the oil and gas
infrastructure.

>From the viewpoint of any terrorist organization, sabotage in the
area of the Caspian could have serious consequences: incite interstate
clashes, particularly if they are carried out in disputed oil and gas
fields, and strike at the economic security of certain states whose
budget depends on exports of Caspian oil. This would, naturally, cause
a deterioration in the investment climate, which also would strike
primarily at the economy of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

In addition, acts of terrorism like, for example, the bombing of
operating oil lines or tankers could give rise to serious
environmental problems, which also could result in interstate strife.

Distrust between Caspian states

Another problem into which both Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have been
pulled is the militarization of the Caspian. Given the geopolitical
and geo-economic significance of the Caspian, the appearance of the
military factor is perfectly natural. The militarization of the
Caspian region is an objective process, which is only just beginning
to gather speed and is more a restraining factor than an instrument of
aggression.

A principal reason for the militarization of the Caspian is the mutual
distrust of the Caspian states, primarily Iran and Turkmenistan of
Azerbaijan over disputed fields. Nor should we forget the
participation in the process of militarization of the Caspian of third
countries the United States and Turkey which is doing little to
promote a lessening of the mistrust in this region.

China’s increased assertiveness noted

A possible change in the balance of military-political forces in the
Caspian having to do with the increased assertiveness of China, which
also could provoke new interstate strife, is also giving rise to
certain fears in the pessimists. The competition of the oil lines is
making its contribution to the militarization also. We can agree here
with Vardan Oskanyan, minister of foreign affairs of Armenia, who
believes that the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil line
could result in a foreign military presence in the region.

The fruitlessness of the negotiations on the Caspian’s legal status
against the background of the start of the active development of the
oil and gas fields in the Caspian on the part of Russia, Kazakhstan
and Azerbaijan, and now Turkmenistan also may also be highlighted as
being among the reasons for its militarization. The military
reinforcement of these states is aimed at securing the efforts of
their own and foreign oil and gas companies under the conditions of
the current friction between Caspian states. And it is ultimately not
a question of militarization itself but of the fact that this process
is still moving ahead under the conditions of the uncertain legal
status of the Caspian.

As a result, Azerbaijan is now, not without the assistance of the
United States and Turkey, the second military flotilla in strength
level in the Caspian after Russia. This has given rise to a
retaliatory response on the part of Iran and even Turkmenistan. A
Caspian arms race has begun. And Kazakhstan has decided to join it,
forming its own navy and military infrastructure in the Caspian,
despite Russia protests.

It is interesting to note that Donald Rumsfeld, who spoke in
militarily direct fashion of the United States’s interest in helping
Kazakhstan, building up its military arsenal in this region, visited
Kazakhstan shortly before Ilham Aliyev’s visit. It is noticeable also
that one of the agreements signed between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan
was one on cooperation in the military sphere.

One solution is the synchronization of the military interests of the
five Caspian states. It makes no sense to separate the security of its
states from the security of the region as a whole.

But this is merely a pious wish. Reality is pointing to an interesting
situation arising. Whereas in the sphere of division of the Caspian
along a median modified line a stable trio in the shape of Kazakhstan,
Russia and Azerbaijan has evolved, in the military plane in the
Caspian a Kazakh-Azerbaijani duet could emerge, specially since the
two states are being given active assistance by Uncle Sam here.

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