Last week, as soon as the Ashkhabad summit on the legal status of the Caspian Sea was over, President Putin left for Russian city of Astrakhan for a four-day visit. A really unexpected event occurred there, that at the same time seemed to be a logical sequel to the unsuccessful summit in Turkmenistan. The Russian President ordered to start periodical training of the Caspian military flotilla. It is clear, manoeuvres of war ships is a plain demonstration of force under present-day political conditions. Moreover, today Russia is practically the only state that holds considerable war fleet on the Caspian Sea. Although, no new ships were delivered to the flotilla within 15 years at least, the Russian war fleet in the Caspian Sea is really very great as compared with other countries. First of all Iran is meant. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan will hardly be able to create some kind of a fleet within the nearest time. At the same time, it is hardly probable for Iran, although with great difficulties, but still.
Teheran’s reaction to periodical training of Russia’s Caspian flotilla was somewhat delayed, but rather predictable. Opinion of Iran’s official circles was expressed by professor of the Teheran University Jusef Mulai in an interview to Iranian news agency. He said, the Iranian authorities did not completely understand, “to what extent Russia really needs periodical training in the Caspian Sea. It is not clear, what countries outside the Caspian region pose a threat to Russia and other countries of the Caspian region, against what threat exactly the manoeuvres are designed.”
To the professor’s opinion, there are two reasons for organization of manoeuvres. First of all, because of the Chechen problems Russia wants to strengthen its military position in the North Caucasian region. So, the training is caused by Russia’s internal, not external problems. Second, problems of the Caspian region have reached a critical point, and Russia wants to adjust its economic activity to the US politics, it means Russia will act in the same line with the USA. If the second variant is right, it means Russia is exerting direct pressure on Iran to make it compromise and sign bi- and trilateral agreements.”
At the same time the professor mentioned, Iran was not planning to organize response manoeuvres of its naval forces in the Caspian Sea. Iran will “maximally use diplomatic and external political means” to settle the problem of the Caspian Sea legal status. The professor also touched upon the legal basis for demilitarization of the Caspian Sea. He said, none of the earlier signed documents provided for the basis directly. At the same time, it is usually said in official statements that the Caspian Sea is a demilitarized zone and can be used for peaceful purposes only. The Caspian Sea, on which shores several countries are situated, is basically designed to serve the purpose of peace establishment only. Besides, the atmosphere of the Caspian presidents’ summit was really friendly. The Teheran University professor says, “In this connection, Russia’s actions can hardly be understood, and we doubt the intentions are really friendly.”
The problem of the Caspian Sea legal status seems to be in a deadlock. None of the parties concerned can suggest a plan to satisfy interests of all participants of the talks. Under such conditions Russia’ s intention to hold periodical training of the Caspian flotilla can hardly be treated as an ordinary examination of the naval forces. Although reaction of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan is not so negative as that of Iran, they are unlikely to welcome Putin’s instruction.
Read the original in Russian: http://www.pravda.ru/main/2002/04/30/40551.html