- Sergey Aleksandrovich, the overwhelming majority of fellow citizens, I think, are not very familiar with what can be called "Caspian political and economic problems." At best, they know that once from this region black caviar, which no longer exists, came into free sale. But now it is easy to buy a Caspian roach called “roach”. It is in the West that military and politicians often argue about the significance of the Caspian. And we?
- Speaking about our foreign policy priorities, we have not forgotten about this region. But, really, the Caspian’s media and its problems are practically not interested, as they say now, it “is not at the epicenter of the media space”. Accordingly, we are not News or comments are not received. The media are “imprisoned” on completely different topics; the Caspian begins to worry journalists only when something happens in the region or can happen. This is the specificity of the information space: they propose that we consider far from always important topics.
At the same time, it is necessary to recognize: we have two main directions of foreign policy, western and eastern, specifically in recent years, this is China, to which we pay special attention. Now the Middle East has been added to them. So, the Caspian is perceived as a periphery of foreign policy interests. However, the expert community is well aware that this region is becoming a strategically important crossroads of interests of the main global players. Here - and the place of oil and gas deposits, and the point of potential conflicts - with their possible flow in the military phase. There is little talk of the Caspian in public, but Russia has not forgotten it.
- You are the director of the institute, which deals with the problems of this region. Do we have specialists who constantly keep it in sight?
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a department that deals with this topic, there is also an ambassador at large, responsible for the Caspian region, the sectors in the “relevant” departments work. So there are many experts, another thing: in relation to the Caspian, we see the same problems as in our policy as a whole. In the nineties, we did not have a sane strategy applied to this region - however, it was also absent in relation to many states of the post-Soviet space. In those years, Russian-Belarusian cooperation should be considered the most effective, it was then that the Union State was created and the foundation laid for the current integration of the two countries. Everything else looked either extremely mediocre, or frankly bad. So the "lost Caspian" in this case is not an exception.
Although, on the other hand, Moscow settled all its territorial issues with Kazakhstan and several other countries. But in the south of the Caspian Sea between Iran, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, there is still a tense struggle to determine their own national zones. And there is no end to this rivalry, the legal status of the sea is not defined even today, there is no clear distinction between the water area and the bottom. There are only some de facto arrangements.
- The Caspian is directly - or should be - in the sphere of interests of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Russia. The sea is all the same, interests are different. Are they very different? And do not external players stand, for example, for Baku or Astana?
- The question is how to formulate these interests. If you don’t see beyond your own nose and limit yourself only to the nearest perspective, then yes, there is a conflict of interests. It concerns, first of all, the oil and gas sector. Because Baku views the Caspian Sea as a kind of minerals pantry, which should provide the country with a bright future. Azerbaijan is focused on Western projects for the delivery of oil and gas, bypassing Russian pipelines. Naturally, this desire is contrary to the interests of Moscow. For the sake of justice, I must say: there would be no such situation if the Chechen war didn’t happen at that time, because Baku used to pump its oil through pipes laid across the territory of Dagestan and Chechnya. Then the route became very dangerous, the Azerbaijanis used this excuse to justify their bank towards the West. While complaining that, besides oil and gas, they have nothing to sell abroad, respectively, the construction of the “western pipe” is, above all, an economic necessity. What they did with the help of Turkey, laying the pipeline Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan. However, an additional factor complicating bilateral relations was, of course, the Karabakh conflict. From the very beginning, the point of view that Russia in this conflict behaved biased and acted on the side of Armenia prevailed in Azerbaijan. Against this background, Turkey’s influence on Azerbaijani foreign policy sharply increased.
We also have problems with Astana and Ashgabat. While their oil and gas is being pumped through the old, once allied pipelines, but there is a desire to bypass Moscow to reach Western buyers, so that a conflict of interest can be said in this case too.
But, on the other hand, everything that has been said is a kind of primitive perception of the situation today, like “grab now, as much as possible, tomorrow it will be too late”. From a strategic perspective, you need to understand: The Caspian Sea is an inland water body of five countries. And it is not in the interests of the "five" to turn it into a dustbin, which it can become as a result of oil production, the reserves of which are not infinite. To this we must add that if the revenues from the extraction of raw materials will not be invested in infrastructure, then coastal regions will also become garbage dumps. And, what is the most dangerous, mired in these conflicts, we are able to quarrel once and for all. To attract certain third forces to the region and even become victims of military confrontation, which is in the hands of many Western players, but it is not at all beneficial for us.
Both Americans and Europeans, knowing full well the significance of the region, are actively trying to penetrate into it and influence the local elites. So far, they have the best "cooperation" with Baku. Of course, Azerbaijan is trying to balance, but in general, Washington pushes and buys our neighbors in the Caspian. In addition, there is an "explanatory" work with the population. Actually, the methods of their actions do not differ from those that Americans use everywhere they want to gain a foothold. The offensive goal is simple: to radically weaken the influence in the Caspian region of Russia and Iran. After that, make the former Soviet republics of the South Caucasus and Central Asia loyal partners. Then use them in the fight against Moscow, Tehran and, possibly, Beijing. It is clear that one more task is to get the oil and gas resources in hand.
The results of such "experiments" can be extremely pitiable. Everywhere, where NATO pursues a similar policy, either war begins, or the internal political situation aggravates. The general strategic interest of the “five” is to prevent us from being beaten. Perhaps, for the sake of this, tactical interests should sometimes be compromised in order not to become a battlefield in foreign projects.
- The Institute of Caspian Cooperation literally recently held an international conference. Topics were clearly marked, it was about security threats and stabilization factors. Do we think that we are threatened, or are external threats being spoken about today in other Caspian states?
- The meeting was attended by representatives of all the Caspian littoral states, there were many discussions - as well as opinions. But what is interesting is that in assessing the threats to the security of the region, everyone was practically united. The first is the possible unleashing of a military conflict "around" Iran. You can not even talk about anxiety about the fate of this state, but when it boils, the former Soviet republics will suffer. First of all, the West - or the one who will strike - will try to involve neighboring countries, force, say, Azerbaijan or Turkmenistan to participate by giving their territory for the purposes of the operation. And this means that Tehran may well strike back precisely on them, the Iranian missiles will not reach the United States.
In addition, for the sea it will be an environmental disaster. Millions of refugees will rush from Iran to neighboring countries. And the United States will receive an excellent opportunity to permanently consolidate the post-Soviet countries in the sphere of its foreign and military policy. Accordingly, the position of the "five", expressed at the conference, was united: no one needs a war against Iran. At the same time, this opinion does not mean at all that everyone loves Tehran, Baku, for example, has rather tense relations with it. Everyone is quite wary of the Iranian nuclear program, but the littoral conflict in the region is absolutely not needed by the Caspian countries.
The political shifts caused by the attack on Iran in the Caspian states can be so strong that I do not rule out a possible change of power. Suppose the war has begun. 20 of millions of ethnic Azerbaijanis reside in Iran, they will flee to Azerbaijan, whose population is only 5 millions. Even if as many of them rush in the direction of Baku, imagine the consequences - they are unpredictable. The same problem may arise in Turkmenistan, except on a smaller scale.
Predicting the development of events is difficult, look at Iraq and Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. Today, Iraq is actually a dismembered country. Its actual disintegration has caused political metastases in neighboring countries. In Syria, there is a war, unrest in Turkey, the Americans are drawing it into an escalation of tension. So it will not be enough for anyone.
Another thing is that in the near future, Iran will not be attacked. For one pragmatic reason: the West is not ready for an attack, and now the bombardment with subsequent ground-based actions will not be decided. But even the fact that talks about the war against Iran are being intensively conducted already raises the degree of tension in the region.
Another serious potential threat is the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan. The exit route is through the Caspian states, it is known that the territories of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan will be used for this, it is likely that Azerbaijan will be involved.
But we know how, under various pretexts — including very plausible — NATO members in general and the Americans first of all consolidate their military-political presence in other states. For example, the same base “Manas” in Kyrgyzstan: you can call it “the center of transit traffic”, called “a point of humanitarian aid to the people of the country”. But this is a permanent US air force base. There is a center of electronic intelligence, which “probes” the neighboring countries, first of all - the territory of China. Although it is called everything in the most innocent way, the base is called the “jump airfield”.
Here they are, the risks. If the Americans use transit to consolidate their presence in the Caspian littoral states, then this will give them the opportunity to influence their policies, and may become a factor of instability, as the events in Uzbekistan have shown. There was a NATO base in Khanabad, and it was closed when it became clear: the Americans were involved in organizing the Andijan events, when an insurgency was actually raised in the south of the country, during which hundreds of people died. There are very good reasons to believe that Western intelligence agencies were related to its support. The main instigators can not be called, but they "warmed" excitement. Then the base from the country and asked. Now the relations between Washington and Tashkent are warming up - maybe the Americans will want to make a second attempt and come back.
The solution is simple. The most important issues in the Caspian - political, military and economic - must be solved in a five-sided format. And this is the only way that extra-regional forces should not have a serious influence on the events taking place in the region. It is clear that there work - including, and with our submission - American, British and other companies. This is a given; it is unlikely that they will be removed from there, but questions of political and military influence are too important to involve some third forces in their solution.
Ideally — and Russia initiated this initiative at one time — it would be advisable to create a regional organization for economic cooperation and development. But it would be nice to conclude a full-scale agreement on military-political issues, where there is no need to firmly state that there should not be a military presence in the Caspian Sea of third countries. Such documents were previously accepted, it is a pity that they were only declarations of intent, but not treaties. At the same time, the provisions on military activity of the five Caspian littoral states could be fixed there so that there would be no feeling that one of them threatens a neighbor.
- Are there any other factors that, like an attack on Iran, can destabilize the situation in the region?
- I do not exclude a quiet and calm attempt by Americans to penetrate there under the slogan of protecting pipelines. As far as I understand, it is precisely to this that Washington inclines Baku. Another five or seven years ago, the United States took the initiative to create a military grouping in the Caspian to ensure the smooth flow of raw materials to the West - Casfor. Although the oil and gas pipelines themselves have not yet been built, the Americans came forward with the idea of their military defense. There are rumors of military cooperation between Baku and Washington, many of them are simply speculations, but there are some reasons for concern. I think Baku will have enough political wisdom to maintain a balance.
- Does Moscow act as an equal partner in this relationship, or is it viewed as a “former senior comrade”?
- Russia is a leader in terms of its scale and in historical degree of influence, nobody can take this away from us. So, of course, one can lament over the miscalculations of our foreign policy. Only in this case it is necessary to understand: our resources and our historical project so far, albeit by inertia, provide us with priority influence in most of the adjacent regions. But in terms of information and economic activity, in the field of various initiatives and projects, Moscow lags behind almost all the former Soviet republics. Because the Caspian region continues to be our periphery. It does not represent for us such an important development factor as it is for other members of the Five.
- We started and let's finish the fish: Iran, if I am not mistaken, is the only Caspian state that seriously and systematically feeds on sturgeon, getting good money.
- The former Soviet republics, alas, almost destroyed this type of fish. Iran tightly controls this area, now it is the main legal supplier of black caviar to Western markets. What used to be considered a Volga delicacy and a Russian commodity, today exports Tehran. We let go of the situation, sturgeon was beaten with poaching methods, their population is almost ruined. That's when we are shown on our TV screens sturgeon fry that have grown here, which grow very slowly, then we remember the Caspian Sea ...
Interview conducted by Viktor Gribachev