Forecasts made on the 4th summit of the Heads of State of the Caspian littoral states proved to be accurate. The statements on cooperation and regional security were made here. The presidents signed several documents. Experts believe that it marked the new milestone in a geopolitical life in the Caspian basin. At the same time, regional security remains a sensitive issue. It would be risky to obscure possible results of including into the statement made by the presidents the provisions that rule out deployment of NATO armed forces in the Caspian basin. However, we must confess that the Astrakhan Summit was of historical importance in a true sense of the word.
The 4th summit: towards peace and cooperation
The geopolitical importance of the Caspian basin has always been highlighted. This area has always been a scene of competition of great empires for its both geographical location and natural resources. Complex geopolitical processes of the 21st century have turned the Caspian into a more important target for the great powers. At present, security in the Caspian region, rules of natural resources use, ways of development of cooperation among countries surrounding the region and other issues have become extremely topical amidst important geopolitical transformations in a number of regions.
Against this backdrop, international aspects of regulating relations between the Caspian nations and geographically far countries who have their own ambitions here remain an important problem too. This is because the use of natural resources of the region is important in terms of forming geopolitical and security system. Experts underline this aspect. Richard Weitz says: ”The Caspian is a hub linking several crucial geopolitical regions, and how the current issues dividing its littoral states are resolved will have an impact felt far beyond its shores” (see: Richard Weitz. Low-Key Caspian Sea Summit Has Far-Reaching Implications / ”World Politics Review”, 30 September 2014).
However, the history of the issue suggests being cautious since serious progress was not achieved at previous meetings. Nevertheless, the step-by-step progress was observed on some issues. For example, bilateral deals on division of the Caspian seabed were inked between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Russia as well as Kazakhstan and Russia. In addition, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Russia signed trilateral agreements on this. Major obstacles that prevent the Caspian nations from determining the Caspian legal status were covered by the media. For this reason, we are not going to elaborate on this further. More important issue is the results achieved at the Astrakhan Summit and their historical importance. Experts are right to label decisions adopted at the meeting as ”breakthrough”, ”historical achievement” (see: Станислав Чернявский. Саммит лидеров “Каспийской пятерки” в Астрахани / ”МГИМО-Университет”, 2 October 2014).
What President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev said in this context reflects the situation fully. The head of state said on the Astrakhan meeting: ”The agreements achieved today are the result of a very serious work, I would say, result of sincere work” (see: Судьба Каспийского моря решена / “Вестник Кавказа”, 29 September 2014). It was necessary to demonstrate “general political will” to achieve this.
Experts believe that agreements on the hydrometeorology of the Caspian Sea, disaster response, protection of marine biological resources and their use are very important. They will play an important role in determining a legal status of the sea in the future. The heads of five Caspian littoral states told about this at the press-conference in Astrakhan.
The most interesting issue at the summit was the declaration signed by the Presidents of Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran and Turkmenistan because this document set out major principles of cooperation strategy of the regional countries and reached a general agreement on principal directions associated with the Caspian status. There are some important aspects in the global geopolitical context.
North-South corridor and security: hopes are running high
The Presidents came to general agreement that the Caspian nations will ensure security of the Caspian Sea. Western experts regard this as a step to deny the NATO the access to the sea (see: Jacopo Dettoni. Russia and Iran Lock NATO Out of Caspian Sea / “The Diplomat”, 1 October 2014). This is considered the biggest result achieved by Moscow and Tehran in a strategic aspect. Experts underline that Russia and Iran united. This is a serious signal in a geopolitical context.
It is not only about determining the Caspian status. This first of all refers to the expansion of cooperation and principles of an approach to the regional security system. If these five Caspian littoral states share the same stance on the prevention of external influence on the region, it is impossible to rule out its influence on the geopolitical processes on a global scale (see: Ян Яндоурек. Иран и Россия объединяются / ИноСМИ.ru, 3 October 2014). From this point of view, we should not disregard the fact that some experts mention the basin-related contradictions (see., for example.: Виктория Панфилова. Каспийское море поделят через год / ”Независимая газета”, 30 September 2014 г.).
The time will show what the West`s reaction will be. There may be various forecasts. We should not rule out the possibility of worsening situation. In this case, some problems may emerge in the region. The status of the Caspian Sea and prospects of cooperation may cause concern. In this respect, agreeing concrete principles of determining the legal status of the Caspian make the one wonder. We must not forget about promises that this issue will be resolved at the meeting to take place next year (see: the previous source).
Naturally, the Iranian press expressed great interest in the Astrakhan summit. But existing problems in Iran are given saliency. It became more evident in determining the Caspian legal status. Iranian experts regard that Iran`s proposal to provide each littoral nation with an equal 20 percent share of the Caspian seabed as more relevant. As a result, Iranians come to a conclusion that the “Caspian Sea is a zone of clash of interests” (see: СМИ Ирана: Каспий – зона столкновения интересов? / ИноСМИ.ru, 3 September 2014).
We have to pay attention to the agreement on some important geopolitical interests achieved at the Astrakhan summit. The event discussed the creation of the North-South corridor and construction of a railway around the Caspian Sea. These two projects are of great significance for Russia.
The North-South corridor can link the West and Eastern Europe with the South Asia. This is associated with perception of the West-backed Silk Road project and on the other hand, the Caspian region`s enhanced role in this process. If the project is realized, global changes will undoubtedly occur in a geopolitical dynamics.
The implementation of the project can certainly open up new opportunities for the regional nations. The Caspian Sea`s becoming the region of cooperation and peace will bring great benefits. What President Ilham Aliyev said about this can be called a motto of the Astrakhan summit. The head of state said: ”We regard the Caspian sea as the sea of friendship, peace, security and cooperation”.
Given the above-mentioned, the fourth summit of the heads of the Caspian littoral states is of special importance. Relations being formed among the regional countries that serve peace, security and cooperation are no doubt a historical event. Consistency of the steps taken in this direction is one of the major conditions. This will pave the way for the elimination of contradictions mentioned by experts. With high probability we can claim that the heads of state will achieve this by displaying political will.
Another geopolitical issue is that the Caspian littoral states may demonstrate a model of cooperation. This model can be realized in other regions and basins in the future. Thus, regional models of security can be fruitful for forming the global security system too.