As informed sources in the Russian Defense Ministry reported, Russian Defense Minister postponed his visit to Armenia, scheduled for July 1-2. This is explained by several reasons. First of all, since June 30 till July 3 Boris Yeltsin was going to visit Kazakhstan and sign a range of important military agreements. Of course, the Defense Minister should have accompanied him. Second, on July 1 Boris Yeltsin planned to organize his working meetings with the power ministers of the country. Third, on July 3 another meeting of the Russian Security Council will be organized, during which the issues of the long-term Russian politics in the sphere of nuclear deterrence and strategic nuclear forces development will be discussed, where Igor Sergeev, as the main specialist of strategic nuclear forces should be present.
Although presidential press service defined the Security Council meeting as ordinary, we can not call it ordinary, because the time of its organization was often corrected. A week ago the Kremlin planned the visit of Boris Yeltsin to Astana on July 3. Suddenly the plans were rapidly changed. Why?
As reported presidential press service, the visit to Kazakhstan was canceled “due to necessity to take urgent measures, connected with preparation for realization of the program for stabilization of financial and socioeconomic situation in Russia”. Now the visit is scheduled for September.
Meanwhile the words of the presidential press secretary sounded unconvincingly. Analysts tend to consider some other versions of Yeltsin’s refusal to go to Astana. First of all, Russia did not form its final position regarding the CIS countries, in particular, Kazakhstan. Signing of the treaty about eternal friendship and cooperation with Kazakhstan, as well as the other inter-state agreements, would have strengthened the principles of the bilateral relations, which under some circumstances (for example, orientation of Kazakhstan to the West and the USA) would not quite fit the Russian interests. Second, refusal to go to Astana is evidently connected with the fact that under conditions of the economic instability and on the eve of the possible deep financial crisis in Russia the Kremlin does not dare to define the status o the Caspian Sea yet. This is probably the main reason of the visit’s cancellation, because it deals not only with the geopolitical, but also with significant long-term material interests of Russia.
As is known, until recently Russia and Kazakhstan had the mutual claims for ownership of the oil fields in the Northern Caspian Sea. Speaking on January 24 of 1998 on the Russian TV, Nursultan Nazarbaev expressed his disagreement with how the borders of this oil field had been defined, evidently hinting that if Russia acts here from the forceful position, UN and international organization may be attracted for solving of the problem. At that time Nazarbaev said: “We should not turn this problem into the Balkans of the beginning of the XXth century, which had given two world wars to he world, because big interests collide in the Caspian region, especially the interests of Russia and Kazakhstan It is necessary t solve these problems peacefully. The fact that the Russian Energy Ministry announced a tender for the disputable territory, this sounds again like “we are very big and very strong””.
However evidently Boris Yeltsin did not make concessions to the Kazakh President, and after the negotiations it was decided to improve the project of he Convention about the legal status of the Caspian Sea by March 15 of 1998 for it further discussion by the leaders of the five Caspian countries. The joint Convention failed. Anyway already by May Yeltsin and Nazarbaev agreed about the possibility f the Caspian sea bottom division, taking into account “the sovereign rights for the natural resources use”. On April 27, on the eve of the CIS leaders summit in Moscow, the parties promised to sign this document. But at the very last moment Russia refused to do this. The same situation was repeated recently. However like reported Nezavisimaya Gazeta, resolution of the Russian government, approving the project of the Russian-Kazakh agreement about division of territories in the northern Caspian Sea, was allegedly signed by Sergei Kirienko. Although the project of the international agreement is hardy approved by the governmental resolution. Most probably Kirienko signed the project of the Russian-Kazakh agreement. The newspaper says that the project of the agreement will be signed on July 6-7 in Moscow by Nazarbaev and Yeltsin. Meanwhile, official Kremlin and other state representatives, dealing with preparation of the agreement, keep silent. This once again confirms the fact that the Caspian problems between Russia and Kazakhstan still exist. At this point the indecisiveness of the Kremlin is understandable. Undefined status of the Caspian Sea allows Russia to act more diverse in the future and occupy any position, depending upon its own interests, influencing the other Caspian countries.
Meanwhile, we need to admit that despite decline of the oil prices, oil still remains the main bone of contention between majority of the CIS countries and the means for strengthening of positions of the West and USA in the former Soviet republics. Nazarbaev and other Caspian leader often announced that they are for the multi-variant routes of the Caspian oil transportation. This thesis is also supported by many Western politicians.
At the end of February during the hearings in the Senate foreign affairs committee Robert Gi reported that the US Administration prefers the route of the Caspian oil transportation through Georgia and turkey. This statement was made on the eve of the meeting of Turkish, Georgian, Azerbaijani, Kazakh and Turkmen foreign ministers in Ankara on March 2-3. They also expressed their joint support of he project Baku-Djeikhan for supply of the Caspian oil to the international markets.
At this point we need to mention that under some circumstances the planned southern pipeline will threaten by the possibility of the global ecological catastrophes appearance, because now the USA and Turkey, with the active support of Kazakh, Georgian and Azerbaijani leaders offers to connect the underwater pipeline from Tengiz to Baku on the Caspian Sea bottom to the planned southern part of the oil pipeline. It is this circumstance, that makes construction of the pipeline through Turkey to Europe profitable.
Russia and Iran already spoke against such decision. During the visit of former Premier Victor Chernomyrdin to the USA Sergei Kirienko, who was a member of the delegation, focused attention of the American party on the fact that the possible construction of the trans-Caspian underwater oil pipeline causes a “serious concern” of the Russian party. However such a humble warning does not solve the problem, and all existing disputes about the Caspian Sea are only laid aside. Russia made lots of unpardonable mistakes, due to which its geopolitical position and influence in the Caspian region declined. It failed to prevent conclusion of the “contract of the century”, although the Russian Foreign Ministry made attempts in this direction. Russia several times changed its attitude towards definition of the Caspian Sea status, having alienated Turkmenia and Kazakhstan from itself. Until recently no clear position and principles of the Caspian Sea division were developed, however the multi-billion contracts, signed by the other countries for development of the disputable oil fields form big preconditions for internationalization of the possible conflicts, increasing the role of military factor in their solving.
Even peaceful Kazakhstan is steadily strengthening its Navy in the Caspian Sea. As reported the source sin the Kazakh Defense Ministry, Zenit plant in Uralsk launched the first fast boat, built by it, for the republican Navy. In the middle of May the fast boat left the pier and traveled to the Caspian Sea estuary, where its tests were started.
According to the information from Kazakh Defense Ministry, old combat ships, remade for the coast guarding, are currently sailing the Caspian Sea. Some of them, supplied by Germany (4) are already obsolete. The other, American ones (5) are not adjusted tot he local conditions. (Handing of five Russian ships to the Kazakh Navy is only being discussed.) The fast boat, built in Uralsk, according to the Kazakh specialists, meets all modern demands. It will fulfill the tasks for the state border protection, perform the customs and ecological duties.
Multi-variant tasks, which the fast boat will have to fulfill, are connected with the fact that the Kazakh Navy is only being formed. Under its aegis the Border Guards are also being organized, which organizationally belong to the Armed Forces. Now the logistics units and two divisions of the Kazakh Navy are functioning in Aktau, the main republican navy base. Here department of he Kazakh Navy command is also located. These duties are performed by commander of the Navy base in Aktau, captain of the 1st rank R. Komratov. Meanwhile, the main functions for protection of the Caspian zone were undertaken by the republican Customs Committee. Since January 12, 1998, the whole seabed within the national borders became the zone of operation of the specially organized rapid reaction service Bars, to which the republican Navy is operationally subordinated. The sea customs guards service consists of ten fast boats, armed with the automatic firearms (plus auxiliary vessels and aviation: three Mi-8 and Mi-2 helicopters). They are based in Aktau and Atyrtau ports in the east and north of the Caspian Sea. After its tests the fast boat, built in Uralsk for the Navy will evidently be included into the Bars.
If the customs union of Russia and Kazakhstan is formed and starts really operating. Probably the Russian customs guards service will be the curator of the Kazakh Navy, but this is , of course, nonsense.
According to the official version, with assistance of Bars naval customs guards Kazakhstan is going to stop the uncontrolled fishing of the other countries of the Caspian region in its waters. However there are also some other goals of the republican customs guards: protection of the explored oil fields, as well as control over delivery of the early Tengiz oil to the terminals in Baku, from which it will be transported to the Georgian ports in the Black Sea through the ground pipelines and railway.
Understanding the danger of the Caspian Sea militarization, Russia will do its best so that the southern variant of the Caspian oil was not the main one. Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that Russia is going to stipulate a thesis in the project of the agreement about the Caspian Sea, offered for signing, that the Northern part of the Caspian Sea and its natural resources are divided by the parties according tot he middle line. Along with this the water surface remains in the common use. The freedom of seafaring is preserved, as well as the existing fishing and environment protection norms. The oil fields will be also developed as though in cooperation. The project of the agreement points out that the party, which discovered a prospective oil field, has the priority for receiving of a license for exploration and development with the obligatory attraction of the other party.
Taking into account the big military, social and economic dependence of Kazakhstan from Russia, we may guess that the Caspian sea will not become a bone o contention for the two countries. However the parties should have a coordinated position and sincere wish to move towards each other. So far we do not see this, at least on the part of Russia. Kazakhstan, seeing such an attitude, is trying to play a “double game”. Under some circumstances it may further aggravate the situation.