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Could Energy Resources Cause Russia to Spark a Naval War in the Caspian?

In the past three decades the Islamic Republic of Iran has developed a well-earned sense of paranoia. First, in September 1980 Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in what he thought would be a quick military victory, but which quickly turned into an eight-year bloody slugfest, leaving an estimated 500,000-1,000,000 dead before the guns fell silent.

More recently Iran has been subjected to increasingly militant rhetoric from both Tel Aviv and Washington over its civilian nuclear energy program, with thinly veiled threats of possible military action if Tehran does not abandon its efforts, even though they are completely complaint under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which Iran has signed.

Now however, potential is brewing for Iran from an unexpected direction – the north.

Russia is sharply increasing its military presence in the Caspian. Russian Federation Navy Commander in Chief Admiral Vladimir Vysotskii has stated that Russia’s Caspian Sea Flotilla will receive up to 16 new ships over the next decade, while some aviation units will be transferred to the Navy from the Russian military’s southern operational-strategic command. What has really got to have the mullahs in Tehran fingering their worry beads however is Vysotskii’s promise to provide the Caspian Sea Flotilla with Bastion shore-based missile systems armed with Yakhont hypersonic missiles, which are designed to destroy surface targets at distances of up to 200 miles.

Russia’s Caspian Sea Flotilla flagship, the Tatarstan frigate, is already the most powerful vessel on the Caspian, armed with Uran missiles with a range of 100 miles. Later this year the Tatarstan will be joined by a sister ship, the Dagestan.

The Caspian Sea Flotilla is also taking delivery of the first in a series of new Project 21631 Buyan-M-class rocket-artillery ships, along with three amphibious assault ships.
The Iranian Navy has a total of approximately one hundred, mostly small combat and supports ships on the Caspian. They include three Iranian-made midget submarines (of a North Korean type that can transport a group of combat divers and have a range of 1,200 miles), an outdated Salman-class minesweeper (American-made), and patrol cutters.

Russian analysts believe that Iran however has the ability to increase its Caspian naval forces by 50 percent in short order by relocating craft from the Persian Gulf.

As for the other Caspian littoral states – Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, their naval forces are negligible, to be polite.

So, why is Russia beefing up its naval presence?

The most likely reason is the one that has bedeviled the region for the last two decades – a final treaty delineating the ownership of the Caspian’s offshore waters and seabed has yet to be signed. While Moscow and Tehran might agree about keeping the U.S. locked out of exploiting the Caspian’s energy resources, worth an eye-watering $3 trillion, they remain at loggerheads over the issue of dividing the Caspian, with Russia insisting that each nation receive offshore waters in proportion to its coastline, while Iran insists that all five nations receive an equitable twenty percent apiece. Under the Russian definition Iran’s share would be 11-13 percent.

Complicating the issue is that international law has yet to definitively designate whether the Caspian is an inland "sea" or a lake, an adjudication which has enormous implications for both the applicability of the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea and negotiation of the boundary demarcation regime affecting the littoral states' rights to significant undersea oil deposits.

Ironically, Iran has itself played the “gunboat diplomacy” card in the past. On 23 July 2001, an Iranian warship and two jets forced two Azeri research vessels, the Geofyzik -3 and the Alif Hajiyev, operating in what Azerbaijan calls the Alov oilfield on behalf of BP-Amoco, to leave the field where they were conducting surveys, which lies 60 miles north of Iranian waters. BP-Amoco immediately announced it would cease exploration activities and withdrew the research vessels. Azerbaijan denounced the move as a violation of its sovereignty and on 31 July charged that an Iranian reconnaissance aircraft had violated Azeri airspace and come within 90 miles of Baku. Ramping up the pressure, Iranian former Pasdaran Commander Mohsen Reza'i pointedly reminded Azerbaijan that the whole country had once been Iranian territory and that Iran might decide to take it back, even as the Iranian press speculated that the whole thing was a provocation cooked up by Azerbaijan who was scheming to bring about American intervention in the Caspian.

In the unlikely event that hawks in Washington ever considered, then or now, to fly the Stars and Stripes on the Caspian while taking a few potshots at the evil Russkies or the even more perfidious Axis of Evil mullahs, then geography seems to have thrown a spanner in the works, as the Caspian’s sole exit point, the Volga-Don canal, is controlled by… Moscow.

What seems to be happening is that Russia has decided that gunboat diplomacy has its uses, and an upping of its naval presence in the Caspian might finally persuade Iran’s obstinate mullahcracy that it’s time to divvy up the Caspian pie according to Moscow’s formula.

And, after all, 11-13 percent of $3 trillion is no small chunk of change, even to an OPEC member.

By. John C.K. Daly of OilPrice.com

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  • Anonymous on July 08 2011 said:
    >So, why is Russia beefing up its naval presence?
  • Anonymous on July 08 2011 said:
    Kind of a cart before the horse scenario here I think. It is the USA which is pushing for and triggering conflict over energy resources. It is good to see the USA collapsing now, Isnhallah it will happen faster and faster, before they can murder too many more milions of innocents in their downward race to hell.
  • Anonymous on July 09 2011 said:
    A naval war in the Caspian. I wonder whose radar that is on, and who will be involved.Answer - NOBODY's. Yes, Uncle Sugar is all over the place, interferring in things that are none of his business, but as for a real naval war, I have my doubts. And if not the Uncle then who will do the honors? Once again the answer is NOBODY, and so we are doomed to live in sterile peace. Of course, some of this money that is being used to prepare for wars that will never take place could find its way to the homes of children in the US who are growing up poor.
  • Anonymous on July 09 2011 said:
    Actually for Russia, it does not matter since in both situation it would get the same share. It is Americans who are creating conflict by backing up artificial lilliputian states like Azerbaijan to get more share than they deserve. As for Iran, if they have been able for 32 years stand up to Americans, they will stand up to the face of any other tyrant as well. Bullies do not get far with Iran.
  • Anonymous on July 11 2011 said:
    My guess would be that the Russians want to lean on Azerbaijan a bit harder. Lots of movement between Russia, Turkey and Iran over Azerbaijan andcvoil/gas. Russians already have a military presence in Armenia, and in Georgia. Increasing the Caspian fleet would pressure Azerbaijan from the sea. If the Caspian fleet wwre ti include a unit such as the Mistral eventually, the Russians could project power into either the Caucasus or Central Asia. Turkmenistan is a likely starting point for any trans Afghan pipeline ending at Karachi, and the Russians are also keeping an eye on Uzbekistan, which has tended to be a little 'uppity' recently. I think one of the Mistrals they've bought from France might end up in the Black Sea to support any moves in the Caucasus again.
  • Anonymous on July 12 2011 said:
    Russia is not an OPEC member. Main reason for increase of the navy for Russia is increasing military presence of USA in Azerbaijan and Middle Asia.
  • Anonymous on July 12 2011 said:
    "Russian analysts believe that Iran however has the ability to increase its Caspian naval forces by 50 percent in short order by relocating craft from the Persian Gulf."ONE QUESTION -- HOW? Through our own Volga- Don Canal?! :lol:

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