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War may break out in the Caspian Sea

November 22, 2011, 12:10 UTC+3
The division of its territory continues to be the subject of international disputes, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes
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Cmpetition for gas deliveries to Europe may develop into an armed clash in the Caspian Sea, because the division of its territory continues to be the subject of international disputes, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Last Monday Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev described the prospect of the building of the Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP) from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan as “very vague.” Russian experts openly warn that the ignoring of Moscow’s stand may lead to armed confrontation, similar to the 2008 clash with Georgia. Meanwhile, the European Union demands that Russia should not put up obstacles on the way of the building of TCP, threatening to retaliate with hampering the implementation of the South Stream project.

Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan say that TCP will be built on the territory of their national sectors. This is why other Caspian littoral countries cannot dictate to Baku and Ashkhabad what they should and should not do in their territorial waters, the newspaper writes. Bsides, all the Caspian countries are already producing oil and gas in their sectors of the Caspian Sea. Moscow insists, however, that the division into national sectors was unofficial, and since the five countries have not signed a framework document on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, none of them has the right to lay a gas pipeline on the bed of the Caspian Sea, even on the territory of their so-called ‘national sectors.’

Guenter Oettinger, EU Commissioner for Energy, said that if Russia resorted to threats, it would face serious problems. He served notice that if Moscow hampered the building of TCP, Europe would not allow it to build the South Stream gas pipeline, which is a rival to Nabucco.

Some Russian experts are of the opinion that Moscow can defend its stand, using not only diplomatic means. Mikhail Alexandrov, head of the department at the Institute of CIS Countries, told Nezavisimaya Gzeta that he had warned high-ranking EU diplomats for several months about a possibility of the use of force. “This happened once at a dinner in the German embassy, in the presence of Pierre Morel, EU special representative for Central Asia. I tried to explain to him that the West underestimated Moscow’s resolve to prevent the building of gas pipelines across the Caspian Sea. The reasons for that are not so much economic, as military-political,” Alexandrov said.

It is true that Moscow cannot permit the violation of the legal regime of the Caspian Sea, established by the agreements with Iran, because it could lead to a legal anarchy in the region, including the appearance of military bases of third countries, the expert believes. The building of TCP will mean de-facto the recognition of the division of the Caspian Sea into sectors. This is absolutely unacceptable for Russia, and it will have to take action, similar to the operation for the compelling of Georgia to peace. “This time it will have to compel Ashkhabad and Baku to observe international law, probably, with the help of air strikes, if they do not understand any other language. Remembering what NATO did in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, Russia has no barriers, moral or legal ones, for the use of force in the Caspian Sea,” Alexandrov believes.

“From the legal point of view, Russia is absolutely right, and Iran shares its stand. Kazakhstan remains neutral, because it will not become a major gas exporter. There is one more player on that market, which is often forgotten, and it is China. China does not need TCP either. At present it purchases gas from Turkmenistan at a low price, but if plans of gas deliveries to Europe are put into effect, Ashkhabad may raise the gas price, which Beijing will not like,” said Konstantin Simonov, director-general of the National Energy Security Foundation.

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