First Caspian Forum in Turkmenistan brings expectations to address security and stability of the Caspian

Political analyst and expert of Eurasian regions Anastasia Lavrina
Anastasia Lavrina is an Azerbaijan born independent geopolitical and foreign policy researcher, leading Eurasian political analyst, international speaker and commentator on a number of television programs, Political Talk Show hostAnastasia Lavrina

Anastasia Lavrina

All littoral countries attach great importance to the First Caspian Economic Forum. Firstly, this is a unique venue for a meeting of representatives from various areas of all 5 states and concretization of steps to implement the practical part of the convention signed a year ago. Secondly, this will allow discussing the most pressing issues of global politics and economics, which are directly related to the five Caspian countries. The Forum has every chance to become the most effective platform for establishing cooperation to unlock the full potential of the Caspian Sea.

In my opinion, the issue of security and stability of the Caspian region will be one of the most pressing topics on the agenda. Until today, the policy of interaction between the Caspian littoral countries has been stable and balanced. However, we should not forget about the sea confrontations raging in the Persian Gulf. Iran and the United Kingdom continue to think about building up military capabilities in the Gulf, which also involve the interests of the United States and the European Union.

Although the Persian Gulf does not border the Caspian Sea, for all that, Iran is one of the countries that has signed the Caspian Convention. Any restriction of Iran limits the establishment of mutually beneficial cooperation between all 5 countries. The topic of the US-Iran-EU confrontation itself is unlikely to be raised during the forum, but I do not exclude a discussion of the role of Iran in further Caspian projects.

Deepening of cooperation implies the creation of a new infrastructure network, in particular, trans-communications, in particular this applies to port communications in the Caspian. Each country signed the convention has significant potential. Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan are implementing their large projects to strengthen port infrastructure. Baku International Sea Trade Port is the most important route for cargo transportation from China to Europe.

It has every chance of becoming the most acceptable route for transporting goods from Europe to Central Asia. The newly built new port in Alat is a transport hub connecting the west (Turkey and the EU), the south (Iran and India) and the north (Russia). In turn, Russia is investing enormous resources and efforts to develop seaports in the Caspian.

According to the decree No. 1365-r of June 25, 2019, for the implementation of the Strategy on Development of Russian Seaports in the Caspian Basin, it aims to increase rail and road approaches, construct a new port in Dagestan, as well as develop tourism potential until 2030. In 2018, Turkmenistan opened a new international port on the Caspian Sea. Iran is building capacity for infrastructure development through the North-South project. The connection of the largest port of Iran in the Caspian with the national railway network will open up new opportunities for the country.

The North-South International Transport Corridor will connect Northern Europe with Southeast Asia. The railway part of the project is under construction. All the Caspian littoral countries are interested in the successful completion and commencement of the route, which will allow 5 countries to establish trade with the countries of the Middle East and India. In addition, it is worth considering that there was a time when the question of laying the shipping channel of the Caspian Sea-Persian Gulf was raised repeatedly. Much depends on this project. That is why this can be one of the main topics for discussion on the forum.

Five countries need to develop a new joint strategy, which will include the modernization of the entire infrastructure, as well as attracting new investment. I am sure this is in the interests of large investors from Asian countries, especially China, which is aimed at implementing the “One Belt – One Road” project, where the Caspian Sea plays an important role, and also to India. The increase in cargo flows and international trade in the Caspian, while within the framework of an agreed strategy between the Caspian littoral countries, will give the region even greater global strategic importance.

Important to remember that the initiative to convene the Caspian Economic Forum belongs to the President of Turkmenistan, a country that is interested in exporting energy resources and is looking for additional routes. The Southern Gas Corridor is one of the most attractive destinations where Turkmenistan can find a real almost ready route for exporting gas to the European market. The participation of Turkmenistan in this project is welcomed by many participants, as this will significantly expand the potential of the project.

Some days after the Caspian Economic Forum, a tripartite summit will be held in Sochi, where the Presidents of Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia will take part. The first such trilateral summit of the leaders of Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia was held in Baku in August 2016, the second in November 2017 in Tehran, now in Sochi. In my opinion, it is planned to discuss such important topics as increasing Western pressure on Iran, sanctions against Russia, military-political cooperation, creating a transport corridor and developing the Caspian potential, but only taking into account the national interests of each state. It is likely that the topics raised during the forum in Turkmenistan will become, to some extent, the basis for further discussion in Sochi, but in a closer format.