Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 25 Issue 9
Author: Vlad Antonov
The launch of the so-called Special Military Operation of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine in February 2022 (considered by Western countries as a Russian military invasion) drew a line under the development of the geopolitical situation on the Eurasian continent over the past three decades since the beginning of the 1990s.
One of the regions where the situation is changing most dynamically is the Caspian Sea. If, in the last three decades, international relations in the region generally developed without conflict, and the contradictions were more of a hidden, latent nature, then in 2022, the Caspian region began to be perceived as one of the most critical areas of geopolitical confrontation between Russia, China, and Iran, on the one hand, and Western countries on the other.
In 2019, American experts proposed a new geopolitical structure, the Greater Caspian Region, which included five Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan) and three South Caucasus countries (Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia). The purpose of the new association was to strengthen regional connectivity and withdrawal of the region’s countries from the geopolitical domination of Russia and China with their projects Eurasian Economic Union and Belt and Road Initiative.
However, Western countries’ approach inevitably comes into conflict with the interests of Moscow and Beijing, as well as Tehran, which is considered involved in the supply of weapons to Russia for the war in Ukraine and provokes tensions in various spheres, creating conditions for the destabilisation of this core region of the Eurasian continent. As the analysis of the situation in the area with the beginning of Russia’s military operations in Ukraine shows, these trends began to acquire an increasingly conflictual character.
Possible tensions in the Caspian Sea region
One of the first points of tension was the suspension of the activities of a large export pipeline, the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, through which oil is exported to Western markets from the Caspian region of Kazakhstan.
It is noteworthy that the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Donald Lu, called the situation with the restriction of the operation of the oil pipeline an attempt to deprive the Kazakh people of hundreds of millions of dollars in punishment for the lack of support of the Kazakhs and “illegal and unprovoked wars of Putin in Ukraine“.
Another destabilising factor in the Caspian Sea was the events on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, where major military clashes between the warring parties took place in September. Notably, according to the observations of Armenian diplomats, Baku’s actions often correlate with the development of the military conflict in Ukraine.
Recently, also Iranian-Azerbaijani relations worsened due to Baku’s involvement in the critical situation of Azerbaijanis in the northern provinces of Iran.
During 2022, the influence of another explosive factor in the Caspian region’s balance has increased. Because of the sanctions on Russian gas, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, with the support of Turkey and Western countries, have once again put on the agenda the project of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, through which natural gas can be supplied from Turkmenistan bypassing Russia and Iran. It is expected that these steps will invariably collide with the interests of Moscow and Tehran and might destabilise the Caspian Sea.
Thus, the geopolitical situation in the Caspian region is currently at a dangerous point and threatens to destabilise the entire Eurasian region. The only way to prevent negative trends is to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, which will serve as a signal to ease global geopolitical tensions in Eurasia. However, recent events in Ukraine indicate that the Government of President Volodymyr Zelensky is not set up for a constructive solution to the main geopolitical problem of 2022. It is noteworthy that this approach has recently found fewer and fewer supporters in the West.
Ukraine conflict and the current geopolitical scenario
In a recent publication, The Guardian noted that U.S. officials have privately warned the Ukrainian government that it must demonstrate openness to negotiations with Russia. Officials in Washington have warned Ukrainian authorities that support for Ukraine’s position in negotiations with Russia is weakening among allies concerned about the economic consequences of a protracted war.
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky has said that Ukraine is ready to enter negotiations with Russia only if its troops leave all parts of Ukraine, including Crimea and the eastern Donbas regions, de facto controlled by Russia since 2014, and if those Russians who have committed crimes in Ukraine are brought to justice. The Ukrainian government also added that it would not negotiate with the current Russian leadership, formalising this position by adopting a special presidential decree. However, Russia will not accept such conditions, which will decree its capitulation.
The recent incident in Poland negatively impacted the perception of Volodymyr Zelensky by Western countries when the Ukrainian authorities tried, wittingly or unwittingly, to provoke a military conflict between NATO and Russia by accusing Moscow of deliberately launching a missile strike on the territory of Poland.
U.S. President Joe Biden, at the G-20 summit in Indonesia at the time, fortunately, stated that there was no intelligence to confirm that the missile was fired from Russia and that its apparent trajectory did not support that view. Pentagon and intelligence officials repeated Biden’s message to de-escalate a potential crisis throughout the day, though Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stressed that the U.S. would continue to support Ukraine “as long as necessary.”.
In addition, Western countries periodically questioned the current leadership of Ukraine for corruption and misuse of foreign financial assistance. It is no coincidence that a few days ago, people in the House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress proposed to check the financial aid provided to Ukraine. A senior correspondent in the U.S. Parliament, Henry Rodgers, reported the news on Twitter.
If Zelensky continues to be in charge as the Ukrainian President, it is impossible to believe that the Ukraine conflict will have a positive and peaceful resolution. Therefore, without a peace deal, the Ukraine conflict will continue influencing the stabilisation of the situation in other regions of the Eurasian continent.
U.S. President Joe Biden and his team fear that Zelensky could create a war with Russia for which they are not yet ready and the missile strike on Poland inspired Biden to offer an alternative to Zelensky as soon as possible.
Currently, Western experts are discussing the names of the commander-in-chief of the General of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valeriy Zaluzhny, the former chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Dmytro Razumkov, and the head of the President’s office, Andriy Yermak, as likely candidates who could replace Zelensky.
In conclusion, it is possible to state that the current situation in Ukraine, if not resolved, will cause more destabilisation and problems in the Eurasian geopolitical chessboard, especially in the Caspian Sea region, where different actors are confronting each other. Ukrainian President Zelesnky’s conditions might be considered impossible to achieve. Therefore, the West might seek another candidate or political figure to support the peace dialogue in the future.
Analysis in media partnership with Kaspijskij Vestnik. Disclaimer. The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpecialEurasia.