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"Noiseless diplomacy": USA is quietly building a corridor from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea

The deployment of U.S. mobile forces in Azerbaijan was agreed back in April. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev is going to sign an important political document during his two-day state visit to Azerbaijan. The document is a declaration of support for a transportation corridor East – West. Besides, Mr. Nazarbayev is also going to sign the agreement on the integration of Kazakhstan into the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) export oil pipeline project.

The visit of President Nazarbayev to Baku is his first during the presidency of Ilham Aliev. The drafts of documents which have strategic importance to both countries have been polished off by the joint Azeri-Kazakh intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation for nearly a year. Issues relating to the export of Kazakh oil via the BTC pipeline are on top of the agenda.

According to a source in the State Petroleum Company of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan is initially expected to pump 7.6 million tons of oil using the Baku pipeline. Within the next few years, Kazakhstan is planning to increase its oil exports up to 20 million tons per year. For the time being, tankers will be delivering oil from the Kazakh port of Aktau to the Azeri oil terminal in Sangachalakh. A pipeline connecting the eastern and western coasts of the Caspian should be laid across the seabed by the time when the Kazakh oil field Kashagan starts producing its first oil.

Many Azeri analysts believe that Mr. Nazarbayev's visit to Baku and the documents which will be signed during the visit aim to create of a new geopolitical axis East-West which is to be built without Russia's participation. Economic cooperation officially lays the groundwork for the axis. The key members of a new alliance include Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and the United States. The Baku declaration reflects cooperation between the above. The declaration also has a military and political component.

The Baku oil pipeline project kicked off under the auspices of the United States. Following tomorrow's ceremony in Sangachalakh, the prospects for American military presence in the region stretching from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea will be no longer "doubtful." They will be a reality Russia is extremely unhappy about.

As it turned out, there are concrete plans behind the prospects. According to the Azeri media, during a "quite and publicity-free" visit of U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to Baku in April, Mr. Rumsfeld and his Azeri counterpart agreed on all details pertaining to an agreement on the deployment of U.S. armed forces in Azebaijan. The publications on the subject are based on data collected by Stratfor, an American-Israeli Center of Strategic Forecasts. During the first stage of deployment, U.S. military will be technically called "the mobile forces temporarily deployed in Azerbaijan." The American troops are expected to be deployed at three local air bases whose airways were already modernized in compliance with NATO standards. Now the airways can be used by aircraft of any type.

According to Stratfor, the American military bases in Azerbaijan will be small and their personnel will be subject to replacement "depending on U.S. military requirements in the region." Experts of the center believe that U.S. forces in Azerbaijan  can be quickly re-deployed to another area and will take care of a number of missions of strategic importance.

Th export oil pipeline Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan is of strategic importance to the West. Guarding the pipeline will be one of the missions for the American military. NG already reported that U.S. military command in Europe was setting up a special task force dubbed Caspian Guard. The task force will provide security to BTC and other Caspian oil and gas pipelines. The unit will be composed of U.S. mobile forces and military personnel of other countries taking part in the above energy projects. If the reports are confirmed, by all appearances "the U.S. is poised to significantly strengthen its control over the energy resources and priorities in the Caspian," says Stratfor. The first practical steps in that direction have been already taken. Citing a source in the Azeri military, NG previously reported on a few dozen American military instructors that were already working in Azerbaijan. They are reportedly keeping a very low profile.

Predictably enough, the Azeri authorities plainly deny all the reports on any arrangements between Baku and Washington regarding the deployment of American troops in Azerbaijan. "This is false information, there is nothing of the kind," said Ramiz Melikov, head of press service of the Azeri Defense Ministry last Saturday. A similar situation took place in the neighboring Georgia three years ago. Just a few hours before the arrival of first group of U.S. military instructors to Georgia, the officials at the most high level kept denying the media reports on the subject by calling them "lies and allegations fabricated by the enemies of the Georgian people."

Azerbaijan is apparently moving in the same direction. Though its objectives lie well beyond the NATO military cooperation program “Partnership in the name of peace.”

Turkey, America's ally in the alliance,  will supervise reforms in the Azeri armed forces. Thus, the Pentagon is beginning to build its own corridor stretching from the Black Sea to the Caspian. The corridor is hardly for transportation purposes. USA already holds sway over the large area east of the Caspian thanks to its “antiterrorist” air bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. With Kazakhstan as one of the signatories of the Baku declaration, the Americans will gain control over a virtually limitless area provided that Astana is eventually enticed into getting not only economic but also military support from the U.S. The press service of the Kazakh Defense Ministry categorically refused to comment on the issue.   

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