Academic journal article Geopolitics, History and International Relations

The Caspian Basin: Geopolitical Dilemmas and Geoeconomic Opportunities

Academic journal article Geopolitics, History and International Relations

The Caspian Basin: Geopolitical Dilemmas and Geoeconomic Opportunities

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Just as the rapid melting of the Polar caps has unexpectedly turned distanced and dim economic possibilities into viable geo-economic and geopolitical probabilities, so it was with the unexpected and fast meltdown of Russia's historic empire - the Soviet Union. Once considered as the Russian inner lake, the Caspian has presented itself as an open/high sea of opportunities literally overnight - not only for the (new, increased number of) riparian states, but also for the belt of (new and old) neighboring, and other interested (overseas) states.

Interest of external players ranges from the symbolic or rather rhetorical, to the global geopolitical, from an antagonizing political conditionality and constrain to the pragmatic trade-off between political influence and energy supply gain. We can identify three most important categories of interests in the Caspian as:

1) Energy-related economic (and political) interests: referring to the gas and oil resources hidden in the Caspian and their exploitation,

2) Non-energy related economic interests: extensive fishing options and additionally, the costly and luxurious caviar of the Caspian Sea,

3) Strategic positioning of the Caspian; location, that is not only part of numerous European/Asian/Middle/Eastern crossroads but also applies different ways for setting future pipeline routes, that are (considering what is at stake) part of larger geostrategic and geo-economic considerations (Zeinolabedin, Yahyaour and Shirzad 2009, p. 116).

In this interest driven and conflicting mixture we cannot neglect the power and influence of largest transnational corporations along with new non- state players, which are influencing the regional stability, equilibrium of interests and policy making process. Hereby we refer to organized radical Islamic groups, organized crime groups and international and nongovernmental organizations, concerned with human rights, democracy building and ecological issues. Additionally, let us not disregard big consumers like China, India or the European Union (EU) that are driven by their own energy imperative: to improve their energy security (including the reduction of external dependencies) as well as to diversify their supplies, modes and forms in the long run. This energy imperative and strive for energy security is, relative to the demand, also of utmost importance when it comes to geopolitics of energy in the Caspian.

On a promise of these allegedly vast oil and natural gas resources (most of which untapped), the Caspian is witnessing the "New Grand Game" - struggle for the domination and influence over the region and its resources as well as transportation routes. Notably, the Caspian is a large landlocked water plateau without any connection with the outer water systems. Moreover, 3 out of 5 riparian states are land-locking Caspian, but are themselves landlocked too. (Former Soviet republics of) Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have no direct access to any international waters. That means that pipelines remain the only mode of transportation and delivery of carbonic fuels, thus creating yet another segment for competition, and source of regional tension as the 3 riparian states do depend on their neighbors for export routes.

Finally, due to both the not yet officially resolved legal status of the Basin as well as the number of political and territorial disputes in Caucasus and on the Caspian, numerous new pipeline constructions and expansion projects have been proposed, but so far not realized. For the EU, the most important was the Nabucco pipeline, which although not fully guaranteed, served as the hope for reduced dependence on Russia. As of now this goal is currently becoming more and more relevant because of the added complexity to this pending energy issue. Hereby we are referring to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and the accompanying process of western alienation from Russia in general. This strategic reorientation might not be risk-free for the EU, especially if we consider that the Union, in the terms of energy supply, has no alternative option at present state. …

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