Starting from August 1st till August 15th, the northern part of the Caspian Sea, as well as the Astrakhan region and Daghestan will be the scene for a two-week exercise cruise of the Caspian Flotilla. This large-scale exercise will also involve units of the North Caucasian Military District, Interior Ministry, Interior Forces, police, as well as those assigned to the Federal Frontier Service and Railroad Forces.
The exercise's scenario is still a secret. But RIA Novosti obtained information that it would involve 57 men-of-war and support vessels, including the Flotilla's amphibious forces, i.e. hovercraft and unique Orlyonok-class ground-effect machines /GEM/, as well as 10,000 personnel, 4,000 of whom are Caspian Flotilla sailors, aviation and air defence forces, a Kazakh /Kazakhstan is a member of the Collective Security Treaty/ interceptor flight and an Azeri man-of-war.
Russia has declined an Iranian proposal to transport its four ships via the country's internal rivers for participation in the exercise. In compliance with the 1924 Soviet-Iranian Treaty, no men-of-war, but Soviet ones, can be deployed in the Caspian Sea. The USSR collapsed a long time ago, but this formula is still applicable. This is why Russia's southern neighbour, so will Turkmenia, will be represented at the exercise only by its observers.
The exercise cruise consists of two stages. The first one /from August 1st till August 7th/ is a staff training. Officers will use topographic and sea maps, computers, communication and command systems to improve the co-ordination of decisions taken by the Flotilla's commanders, its attached and electronic countermeasures units. In addition, the staff will take all necessary steps to reinforce the defence and security of the country's most important strategic and economic facilities threatened to come under a terrorist attack.
On August 8th, men-of-war covered by attack aircraft and bombers will put to sea escorting transport vessels through zones where pirates are active. Marines will beach on a coastal area seized by criminals. Joint reconnaissance units consisting of the Flotilla's land troops, Interior Force servicemen, policemen and border guards will conduct a number of operations to find terrorist bases, their arms and drugs caches and block several islands to arrest bandits and poachers, storm an oil platform seized by attackers and an operation to prevent an explosion on a bridge across the River Volga...
There are also other objectives, such as searching for and assisting vessels in distress, clearing out oil slicks, preserving bio resources and arresting vessels intruding into Russia's territorial waters and so on.
The official objective of the Caspian Flotilla's exercise cruise is to develop measures to cut off channels, which international terrorists, drug dealers and other destructive forces can use to de-stabilise the economic, political and military situation in Southern Russia; and to ensure safe navigation in the world's largest salt lake. Another mission is to improve the co-ordination of the Flotilla's actions to manage comprehensively problems related to saving vessels in distress in conjunction with other Caspian states' armed forces.
An interesting thing is that it was after the summit, which took place this spring in Ashkhabad /the Turkemnian capital/, when Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed the necessity to hold such an exercise. The Kremlin's hopes that the five leaders would manage to come to a mutual agreement on the Caspian Sea division, never came true. Moscow's position was backed by Astana and Baku, but with minor amendments. This seems to be the reason why the Russian authorities decided to demonstrate not only the country's political and economic importance in the region, but also its military power.
One thing is clear now: Moscow is reinforcing its positions in the Caspian region using not only political, diplomatic and economic means at its disposal.
The choice of the city of Helsinki is not incidental as the capital of Finland had hosted US-Soviet negotiations on the limitation of nuclear stockpiles in 1969