In On Your Majesty’s Secret Service, the world’s most famous spy, James Bond, commented on the flavor of the caviar, in which he noted, “Royal Beluga, North of the Caspian.” Caviar, which are the eggs of the Sturgeon fish and her ichthoyd cousins harvested from either the Black or Caspian Seas, are world famous for their flavor, association with royalty, and high prices.
But there is far more wealth located in and around the Caspian than just caviar. The Caspian is a strategic military point and a major source of oil and gas reserves. Five nations share a border with the Caspian. These are Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, and Azerbaijan.
While the sea itself is small, he who controls the sea even to the point of defining whether it is a sea or a lake is able to control the flow of oil and gas in the region, and it is for this reason that the status of the Caspian will be discussed at an upcoming international conference in Kazakhstan:
A new draft convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, allowing for the laying of pipelines on the seabed and banning foreign military forces, has reportedly been agreed by the five bordering states. Officials also have said that a summit between the five heads of state will take place in early August to sign the agreement.
If it comes off, it would end a dispute that has festered since the collapse of the Soviet Union on how to divide up the sea and its substantial oil and gas reserves. It could also pave the way for the transport of natural gas from Turkmenistan to Europe, something European officials have long hoped for, but which Russia and Iran have opposed.
On June 22, Russia’s official state portal for legal information published a resolution by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev recommending that President Vladimir Putin sign the agreement. It also published the draft agreement itself, but quickly deleted it.
The most noteworthy element of the agreement was Article 14, allowing the littoral states to lay undersea pipelines with the approval only of the countries through whose sectors of the sea the pipeline would pass.
The agreement postponed, however, one of the thorniest issues between the five states: exactly how the sea would be divided up. This has been a longstanding dispute between Tehran, which has insisted on each state getting a 20 percent share, and the other four states, whose shorelines are longer and who prefer a “median line method” of dividing up the sea that would leave Iran with only a 14 percent share.
The published draft document says only that “the delimitation of the floor and mineral resources of the Caspian Sea by sector will be carried out by agreement between the neighboring and facing states taking into account generally recognized principles and legal norms.”
That approach is “evasive” but “expected,” said Stanislav Pritchin, the head of the Center for Central Asia and Caucasus Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, in an interview with Russian newspaper Kommersant.
The draft convention is the result of 16 years of talks between the five Caspian littoral states: Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkmenistan and Iran. It follows December’s agreement between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan on how to divide up their maritime border, which has been particularly sensitive as the area contains contested gas fields.
But while details of the final draft itself remain vague, several questions also remain unanswered.
Not least: What’s in this for Russia? Russia is unlikely to welcome competition in the form of gas from Turkmenistan, which could potentially drive prices down and eat into state gas company Gazprom’s market share.
But Russia may be counting on other obstacles getting in the way of a trans-Caspian pipeline, like financing, said Zaur Shiriyev, a Baku-based fellow at the International Crisis Group. “Russia might also believe that ongoing problems between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan will slow down the process,” Shiriyev told Eurasianet.
It also remains unclear why Azerbaijan, itself a gas producer with ambitions to become a major supplier to Europe, would agree to allow a competitor nation – i.e., Turkmenistan – to construct pipelines across the Caspian and transit gas through its territory to compete with its own gas.
“Most likely Russia is more concerned about Turkmenistan’s growing dependence on China as a gas export market and wants to improve its leverage over Ashgabat,” said John Roberts, an analyst on Caspian energy and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a think tank in Washington, D.C.
With that in mind, Roberts added, Moscow may be prepared to allow the development of a pipeline carrying small volumes of gas across the Caspian for use by Azerbaijan domestically or for transit to Turkey, secure in the knowledge that Azerbaijan itself would be unlikely to agree to a major pipeline to transit large volumes of gas to Europe.
“Baku might agree to a pipeline carrying, say, 8 to 10 billion cubic meters per year,” Roberts told Eurasianet. That volume could help cover Azerbaijan’s own domestic gas shortage, the result of exporting most of its own production, while providing some for Georgia and Turkey and possibly a small volume for export via the TANAP pipeline being developed by Azerbaijan and Turkey. That pipeline currently has nearly half its capacity still available.
Russia also was able to secure a provision in the draft agreement forbidding the presence of armed forces from non-littoral states on the Caspian. It also forbids any of the signatories from letting their territory be used as a base for an attack on another signatory. Moscow has been extremely sensitive about Western countries’, in particular America’s, tentative efforts to establish naval cooperation with Caspian states.
“The pipeline wasn’t the major issue for Russia,” Shiriyev said. “Security, non-interference, and militarization came first.”
The five Caspian heads of state are tentatively scheduled to have a summit to sign the agreement on August 12 in Aktau, on Kazakhstan’s Caspian coast, reported Kommersant citing several unnamed sources. (source)
America has been working extensively to establish a presence in Central Asia, for in the years following the fall of teh Soviet Union, Central Asia remains under the general geopolitical sphere of influence of the Russians but given the difference in history, language, culture, and religion with the Slavic peoples of Russia despite their close proximity, the US has been attempting to encourage ethnic nationalism in order to further a divide-and-conquer strategy as has been discussed and outlined in the Jamestown Institute’s Decline of Russia Project. Since the earliest days of the CIA and continuing through today, the USA has been attempting to use the ethnic minorities of Russia to encourage separatism, even to the point of supporting Islamic terrorism, to further her geopolitical goals.
In Central Asia there is also the growing power of Turkey. While the people of Turkey are for the most part Greek, Armenian, and Slavic peoples who mixed with Central Asian Turks and converted to Islam in the centuries following their conquest of that region, they are the largest single “Turkic” culture of the Turkic peoples who for centuries were known as the Ottoman Empire, and under President Erdogan, he has made no secret that he wants to revive the glory of Turkey’s past which he believes will be a return to her Ottoman ways.
The five “-stan” nations of Central Asia- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan- are also Turkic, Muslim, and out of which many other conquerors and earth-changing cultures emerged. There is a shared belief that Aryan culture, encompassing what became the Turkic but also Japanese and Germanic peoples emerged from the area around the Caspian and spread into Mongolia, Northern China, and the Islands of Japan as well as India and into Europe. Yet while rich in culture, the nations of Central Asia are some of the poorest nations in the world, and many people have been migrating from them to Russia in search of a better life, for while wages in Russia are some of the lowest in Europe, they are still notably higher than in their own nations.
Russian reaction to the migrations have been mixed, for the peoples of Central Asia uniformly have a higher birthrate for each nation than all of Russia, including Uzbekistan, the only one of the five to have a fertility rate below replacement level. Some have been concerned that Russia may be “replaced” by migrants in the same way that some have expressed concerns in Germany following the massive influx of African people beginning in late 2015. Russia has, like Germany, remained silent, and Putin has gone so far as to appoint Sergei Shoigu, the son of a Central Asian father and a Slavic Russian mother, to the head of the Russian Armed Forces.
This fusion of Slavic and Central Asian culture, while always existing, has been encouraged by Putin not so to “annihilate” or wholly assimilate the two into each other, but to build a closer relationship with the Central Asian republics and their former ruler in Russia on a shared historic and regional security interest.
Each of the republics offers something unique to Russia. In the case of Turkmenistan, she is home to some of the richest resources of natural gas in the region. This has been known for years, and in the 1970s resulted in the creation of an international tourist attraction when while drilling for natural gas, a rig exploded and blew open a large crater in Darvaza, an outpost in the desert. This worksite accident caught on fire and has been burning continually, fueled by natural gas reservoirs from under the ground. It is visible from space and has been named the “Gateway to Hell” for which people come from around the world to see.
But tourist attractions aside, Turkmenistan’s Caspian coastline is oil rich and provides a direct path by sea to Azerbaijan, a nation known to and fought over by the Germans and the Russians in the First and Second World Wars due to her oil and gas reserves on the Caspian. Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have been in talks for a long time to build an underwater pipeline to transmit oil, something which Russia and Iran both oppose because of the natural gas lines that flow through either nation. Since both nations rely heavily on oil and other raw materials processing, an Azeri-Turkmen pipeline would pose a direct threat to their economic livelihood.
But as pointed out earlier, the obsession of building an Azeri-Turkmen pipeline would seem to be a foolish move for Azerbaijan, as it truly would invite competition from Turkmenistan. Since most of the gas would be going from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan would stand to gain a majority of the profits as it travels to Europe through Turkey. Economically speaking, it does not makes sense between the two nations themselves.
However, what makes the pipeline profitable is Turkey.
Turkey’s growing power in the pursuit of her Ottoman dream have put her on a global quest to seek out old allies and connect with potential new ones. Azerbaijan is a historical Turkish ally and by extension, an ally of Germany. Germany has not been shy in the past to use her alliance with Turkey as well as to call upon Germanic peoples living in the Volga and Caucasus regions of Russia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan to support her imperialist ambitions during the 20th century.
Azerbaijan does not stand a chance against Turkey in a war, let alone Germany. However, as an ally of Turkey and increasingly an ally of NATO, the poor Caucasus nation is content to show her friendship by allowing Turkish economic interests to flourish in her nation. This is much to the dismay of Russia, who in spite of talks of regional alliances, attempts to serve as a peacemaker in regional Azeri affairs, and their shared history under the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan have deteriorated, especially in comparison to Azeri-Turkish relations.
Azerbaijan has created some well-made propaganda videos for their military, but the reality is that their power comes from Turkey and will act in a way that benefits Turkey as they are close allies.
The Cooperating Council of Turkic States, known as the Turkic Council, based out of Turkey, is one of the largest organizations promoting pan-Turkism, that by invoking images of a shared history, culture, and race, the Turkic peoples would be united and act with a single voice in world affairs. Currently, the Council includes Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan is scheduled to become a member, but has not yet become a full member of the council.
If Turkmenistan were to become a member of the council, aside from the oil pipeline, it would give the Turkic states which share a border on the Caspian a more than 50% control. With Iran holding only 14% of the coast, the rest would belong to Russia. However, it would not change that, in the case of a closer alliance between Turkey and her Central Asian neighbors, which she is already working on, an effective Turkish domination over the Caspian just as how the Ottoman Empire once dominated the Mediterranean Sea for centuries. This domination would make effectively Turkey’s allies- and by extension Turkey- the main oil power in the region, and give her enough oil to pass to her Teutonic ally as they work in mutual support of each other’s militaries.
Could the reason that Turkmenistan’s full participation in the Council be tied to the Azeri-Turkmen pipeline and subsequently, the economic future of Turkey, as well as Turkmenistan’s close alliance historically with Russia? One does not have direct evidence to support this, but in light of the increasing ethnonationalism and the struggle with Russia, such motives should not be eliminated as possible motives.
It also should be no surprise then that both the USA and Germany- sometimes known as the “European Union”- express support for the sister to the Transcaspian pipeline project, which is the Transanatolian pipeline, as the latter is the landward-west part of the former project:
The presidents of Turkey and Azerbaijan have inaugurated a major pipeline that will eventually transport Azerbaijan natural gas to Europe.
The $8.5-billion (€7.2 billion) Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) is part of the Southern Gas Corridor, aimed at turning Turkey into an energy hub and diversifying EU natural gas supplies away from Russia.
“Our country is now one step closer to its vision to become a hub of regional energy lines thanks to TANAP,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in the central city of Eskisehir on Tuesday, dubbing the project “the Silk Road of energy.”
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic were in attendance at the ceremony which saw the last section of the pipeline put in place.
From Turkey to Italy
The 1,850 kilometer (1,150 miles) TANAP pipeline connects to the South Caucasus Pipeline, which pumps gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz 2 field in the Caspian through Georgia to Turkey.
Another section of the pipeline project, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) is slated to bring gas from Turkey through Greece and Albania to Italy by 2020.
The 3,500-kilometer Southern Gas Corridor will deliver 6 billion cubic meters of gas per year to Turkey and 10 billion cubic meters to Europe.
Alper Ucok, the Turkish Industry and Business Association representative to Germany, said TANAP shows how Turkey is a key partner in the EU’s energy security.
TANAP has the political support of the EU and United States.
‘Strategically important’ for EU
European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic, who is in charge of the Energy Union, praised the inauguration of TANAP as a key milestone in improving energy security.
“By helping diversify our energy suppliers and routes, the Southern Gas Corridor is strategically important for the EU’s energy security, including in the most vulnerable parts, such as Southeast Europe and southern Italy,” he said. (source)
This is also the reason why Turkey with the USA and Germany are working on building up a massive railway line going through Turkey and Azerbaijan, through southern Iran and into Central Asia. Oil is most efficiently transmitted by pipeline, but after pipelines the railway system is the second most commonly used means of bringing crude oil from field to refinery.
A railway network is a form of insurance for Turkey and her allies. In the even that either the sea or land portions of any pipeline are shut down, a railroad network ensures an efficient backup means of transportation. Excluding emergencies, a railroad network only adds to the efficiency of transporting oil as it is but another means to move more of the same product faster.
For the most part, any argument between Russia and Turkey is going to be slugged out through public relations appearances, proxy wars, back-door deals and secret meetings as the two nations are historical enemies and which the USA and Germany have extensively funded their Turkish pet project to serve as a hedge against the Russians.
In the years of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan were all a part of the same nation so effectively any oil they pumped went to Moscow. Iran retained her same borders, and just as in the years before 1991, she controls her 14% of the Caspian coast and wants to maintain it. Iran pushed for a renewed plan in which all oil proceeds would be split equally between the five nations, hoping to increase her share of profits, but that plan was wholly rejected and is unlikely to be able to be revived.
Iran is the largest producer of saffron and pistachios, the second largest producer of dates and one of the largest producers of honey in the world. However, like many Middle Eastern nations, her economy does not revolve around Warbat and Ranginak, but petroleum products. Given that 10% of the proveable oil and 15% proveable natural gas fields are in Iran, she relies heavily on her exports to China, India, and the EU for her economic livelihood.
Iran is a strong regional power in the Middle East and parts of Central Asia and her culture is highly influential in the realm. However, by no means is or was she ever a dominant military power. The realm of force belongs to the Turk, who sweeping out of Central Asia centuries ago overran the Alborz and Zagros mountain ranges on their warpath to world domination. It is not just the Ottomans that did this. Every major Turkic migration, from the Seljuks who terrorized the Byzantines, to the Mongolian hordes of Genghis and Hulagu Khan, to the horrors of the Uzbek butcher Tamerlane who nearly extinguished the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century, Iran is to the Middle East as Poland is to Germany and Russia. She is the land over which great armies march and fight in, and she is often times stuck in the middle.
Once again, Iran finds herself surrounded by Turkey on the West, Russia to the north, and the Central Asian republics who are again experiencing a revival of pan-Turkism vis-a-vis their Soviet past. The future is unknown, except that Iran can likely be certain that she will be overrun again.
It is unsurprising then that Iran has chosen for the path of regional friendship. In spite of claims from some in the region, what one can tangibly see is that Iran has voluntarily offered to help Turkey, Azerbaijan, Russia, and the nations of Central Asia for economic partnerships when the opportunity arises. For example, Iran and Azerbaijan recently signed an agreement of friendship to develop oil fields on the Caspian together. At the same time she also signed similar agreements with Russia over finances and also to develop Caspian oil resources. She admits she wants closer ties with all Caspian oil states, and has presented herself as a friend to all.
These oil states are Iran’s economic competitors. She should be, in normal circumstances, competing for her own interests financially. However, the financial issue, which does make up a large part of Iran’s economy, is less important than the more pressing matter of survival. All the oil in the world does not mean anything if one’s nation is invaded by a foreign force, something which Iran has much historical experience of.
Iran is a nation of a high culture, ancient civilization, and has survived many invasions throughout her history going back thousands of years. Even with nations she truly hates and does want to destroy- such as her ancient hatred and disdain for Saudi Arabia, which pre-dates the arrival of Islam, or her eastern enemy of Pakistan, Iran is not going to attack them because she would invite destruction on herself. The Turks would bond on racial issues, the Russians are a power near par with the Americans, and the America and Israeli interests speak for themselves. Shooting at any country that may even have a tangential alliance to any of these nations would be suicide for Iran.
Iran is not a threat to the stability of the Middle East. If anything, her economic cooperation with her neighbors is a vehicle for regional stability, as any fighting which may take place between them would be focused on their personal differences and not with her as she is presenting herself as a friend to all and an enemy to none, for political purposes sitting on the sideline as Slav and Turk with the American sitting in the background fight with each other.
But this conflict is more than regional fighting, as since the oil lines go to Western Europe, this is about preparing Germany for a war with the Russians.
Russia could most likely win a war with Turkey. She could most likely win a war with Germany, She could most likely win a war with Japan. She may even be able to win or break even with the USA- it would be a lot tougher, but the potential does exist. She cannot win a war against all four.
Stop watching and worrying about Iran. While America and her allies and lobbyists are stirring up trouble, threatening revolution in Iran in the name of “freedom”, to overthrow Iran would only be to seize more oil and land assets for an American and German-backed expansion of their economic interests for the benefit of Turkey in the same plan for a coming war with the Russians.
Iran is a threat to Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. She is not a threat to people that if she really did threaten them in a serious way would in turn destroy her.
When President Bush II called Iran a member of the “axis of evil,” He should have taken a look at his Bible and seen that, in the end times, the seat of the Antichrist is neither in Iran nor in Russia, but in Turkey, and as the Ottoman beast revives her empire from the tomb of history, something which does not happen (ask the Greeks, Italians, Mongols, Poles, Germans, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Danes, and Brits about their former empires), one may find that while the USA was fighting Russia in the Cold War, she did so by funding the Turkish menace and may have done more than what she intended to.
In the meantime, I would rather have a little bit of caviar to the melodic tune of the tar, pondering at how the days of Noah must seem little different than modern times, as man one again hurdles himself towards his own destruction, and that sometimes, the best way to fight is to simply not partake in the conflict at all.