Monday, May 14, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Central Asian Accords Hit Iran, Not Just the West

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 14 – By reaching accords on oil and gas exports with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, Russian President Vladimir Putin has altered the geopolitical balance in the region, not only against Western Europe and the United States but also against Iran, according to a leading Moscow analyst.
Most commentary on Putin’s new agreements has focused on their consequences for Europe and the U.S., on the fact that if these accords are realized, petroleum will flow westward through the Russian Federation rather than bypass that country – a path that will increase Moscow’s leverage there and more broadly at the expense of the West.
That is certainly the most immediate and dramatic consequence of the Russian leader’s visit to the region, especially since it and the agreements he reached represented Moscow’s ability to undercut the Western energy summit in Warsaw that was meeting at the same time and whose participants had hoped for a very different arrangement.
But there is another consequence of these arrangements that could prove even more destabilizing to the region, according to Anatoliy Tsyganok, a specialist on military-economic security in the Russian capital. And that involves the division of the Caspian Sea and Iran (
Since 1991, the post-Soviet states and Iran have clashed over how the seabed of that body of water should be divided, an issue that is increasingly important given new discoveries of new oil and gas fields there and the possibility for the construction of underwater pipelines between Central Asia and Azerbaijan to the West.
In May 2003, the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan agreed on the division of 64 percent of the Caspian, with Kazakhstan getting 27 percent, Russia receiving 19 percent, and Azerbaijan 18 percent. Moreover, this trilateral accord offered 14 percent of the Caspian Sea to Iran and Turkmenistan some 22 percent.
Neither of those countries agreed, however. Indeed, Iran currently claims 20 percent of the total, a demand none of the other countries was prepared to meet. And as long as Turkmenistan had not signed up, Tehran could continue to hope that things would eventually go its way without any further controversy.
But now the rapprochement between Moscow and Ashgabat suggests that Turkmenistan may now be prepared to go along with this division. At the very least, Turkmenistan is lining up with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Russia to oppose any pipeline across the Caspian, something the United States and Western Europe want.
The slippage in Western influence in Central Asia as a result of Putin’s economic and political maneuvers is certainly enormous, but Iran may conclude that its role in the Caspian Basin is declining as well, possibly setting the stage either for greater Iranian intransigence on a variety of issues or prompting Tehran to try to compensate elsewhere.

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