THERE IS A SMELL OF WAR IN SOUTH ASIA

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After the informal meeting of presidents of Russia and Azerbaijan Vladimir Putin and Geidar Aliev it is clear whom Moscow supports in the dispute about energy resources of the Caspian Basin. The countries announced that they would definitely sign an agreement on division of their border territories. This division will be done according to the plan of Putin, “divide the floor, reserving the surface for common use.” Iran and Turkmenistan are averse to such division. First of all, they consider themselves losers in this process. Second, they say that the hydrocarbon fields should be developed only after the final division of the Caspian Sea.

At any rate, Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have a different view on the problem. Intention of the countries to demonstrate force is evident. Russia was the first to show the force. After the summit of leaders of the Caspian states in Ashkhabad in late April, during which not a single document regarding the Caspian Sea was approved, Russian President went to Astrakhan, where he announced preparation of big exercises of the Russian military flotilla in the sea. Putin also hinted that military force was a factor of stability in this region. The exercises will begin very soon.

Now Iran, which has formerly been averse to militarization of the Caspian Sea, announces that it also relies on the military component in protection of its economic interests. Doulyat Abadi, advisor to the Foreign Minister of Iran, announced during his meeting with commanders of the Iranian Air Force that “presence of a powerful group of armed forces will ensure protection of the interests of Iran in the Caspian Sea.” Abadi also said that flights of Iranian Air Force pilots over the Caspian Sea were fundamentally important.

At the end of May, Tehran announced officially that it would begin development of Caspian oil fields, although it did not explain which ones. If these are the territories disputed with Azerbaijan, a military conflict is inevitable. What will Russia’s actions be in this case? Whom will it support? Or will it remain neutral? Or will it appeal to international community to stop the aggressor in cooperation? There are many questions, and there is not a single clear answer. Formally Russia and Iran announce their partnership and condemn actions of the US, which allegedly accuses Tehran of development of nuclear and missile technologies without justification. Until recently Moscow declared its interest in the military and military technological cooperation with Tehran. Such cooperation is evidently useful for Russia. However, after the summit in Ashkhabad the tone of Moscow’s statements dealing with Iran changed. Russian officials do not make direct negative statements with regard to Iran, but Deputy Chief of the General Staff Colonel General Yury Baluevsky admits that Tehran is conducting missile tests. Baluevsky also says that Moscow is watching this process and, according to him, Iranian missiles do not threaten Russia yet.

This was said on the day when presidents of Russia and the US Putin and Bush signed an agreement on reduction of strategic potentials. At the same time it was reported that Iran conducted successful trial of the Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile. According to Western experts, the flight range of the missile fluctuates between 1,300 and 1,500 kilometers.

Reliability of the Shahab-3 is not high yet, and according to the Iranian military doctrine it is planned to launch as many missiles as possible to make at least one missile hit the target in case of serious necessity. The Shahab-3 missile was designed on the basis of the North Korean No Dong missile with support of North Korea and China. Iran is currently developing the Shahab-4 missile of the next generation, which can reach the territory of Europe. American military experts predict that by the middle of the next decade Iran will be able to design an intercontinental ballistic missile with a range sufficient to reach the targets in North America.

Meanwhile, Iranian missiles can first of all threaten the territory of Azerbaijan and can incur enormous damage on its military and economic potential. After breakup of the USSR Azerbaijan has practically no efficient air defense assets left and, what is the most important, specialists who can operate them. Moscow and Baku have been discussing the problem of training of personnel for the Azerbaijani Armed Forces, including the air defense units, for a long time, but failed to reach an agreement. Due to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict Russia stopped provision of military aid to Baku. Moscow demonstrated evident sympathies for Armenia, where its main military group in the Transcaucasia was deployed.

A real threat of Iran to Azerbaijan may reveal the role of Russia in this process in a new light. Russia will not support Azerbaijan in the open, but will not quarrel with Iran too. Most likely it will play the role of a peacekeeper. At any rate, this circumstance does not indicate that large-scale bloodshed for Caspian energy resources may be avoided.

Thus, the situation in the southern part of the Caspian Sea becomes unpredictable. The situation may be more explosive in another district neighboring the Caspian zone. It is known that Pakistan and India are getting ready to make war deploying about a million soldiers and armament including missiles, tanks and fighters on the border of the disputed Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. India controls 45% of the territory of the state, Pakistan over 33.3%, and China controls the rest. Two of the three wars between India and Pakistan since the moment when these countries became independent from the UK in 1947 were dedicated to establishment of control over Jammu and Kashmir. What will the new war be like?

Many analysts do not rule out that the parties will use nuclear missiles in the first minutes of active combat operations. Despite the international bans, India and Pakistan already do not hide that they have nuclear weapons, although precise information about the nuclear stockpiles of both countries is classified. For instance, British military experts presume that Pakistan has 150 nuclear charges and India has 250. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) published different data. According to the SIPRI, Pakistan has 20 nuclear charges and India has twice as many. On the first day of a nuclear blows exchange between India and Pakistan, 12 million people will be killed, and many will die later after the consequences of radioactive contamination. British newspaper “The Guardian” published these estimates referring to American intelligence. According to the analytical note prepared by Pentagon, even limited blows of the opponent will result in a huge number of killed and wounded, as a result of which hospitals of the region will be overcrowded and the rest of the world will have to take enormous efforts to provide humanitarian aid to the victims. The document emphasizes that humanitarian catastrophe, which will follow the nuclear blows, will be so huge, that capabilities of hospitals in the Middle East and in South West Asia will quickly be insufficient. Estimating the losses if India and Pakistan use all their nuclear stockpiles, the Pentagon notes that they will vary from 9 million to 12 million people killed and 2 million to 7 million wounded, leaving apart those who will die during fires and from radiation.

Thus, it smells like war in South Asia again, and possible military events will influence Russia’s interests directly. Moscow will evidently make peacekeeping efforts both in the Caspian Basin and on the sub-continent. However, its potential is not big. Taking into account that the US has its own interests in the region it is possible to presume that influence of Moscow on the process will encounter certain counteraction. It is possible that international peacekeeping contingents of the US and NATO will take part in the possible military conflict in the Caspian Basin and in Kashmir, and Russian military contribution will be minimal.

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