After years of pursuing the concept that the Caspian Sea is a sea of peace and friendship littoral states were confronted with a situation where the Caspian Navy Forces were formally involved in the hostilities outside the region. On October 7, 2015, for the first time in the history of the Caspian region, the Russian Caspian Fleet launched missiles strikes on targets beyond the zone of its responsibility, located nearly 1,000 nautical miles away from the Caspian Sea basin. Four warships of the Caspian Flotilla launched a total of 44 Kalibr cruise hit targets within Syrian territory in two separate operations. The second strike of the Caspian Flotilla’s ships armed with missiles was launched on November 20, 2015. The missals flight path to Syria from the Caspian Sea crossed Iranian and Iraqi airspace, which forced the Russian authorities to grant pre-strike approval from both countries. (Cavas, 2015)
Those events led to a domino effect regarding the issue of military power demonstration. Actually, military experts recognize that Moscow’s decision to fire the missiles was motivated by a desire to underline its role as a global power on a par with the United States and NATO. (The Japan Times, 2015) Even though the military effects of the missile strikes can be dismissed, Russia has sent a very clear message to the Western countries about its intention to use every possible means and military facilities to contribute to the strengthening the status of global military power.
Regarding the reaction of other Caspian states to the events of 7 October and 20 November 2015, it should be admitted that Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan refrained from demonstrating their alarming at the official level. Actually, only Turkmenistan to some extent shared its concern about this matter with Russian authorities by expressing that the Kazakh colleagues were worried about what is going on over the issues of security of airspace over the Caspian Sea. Subsequently, Astana did not officially confirm or deny this information. In fact, Kazakhstan demonstrated its attitude toward the issue in another way: on December 14, 2015, the Ministry of Defense of Kazakhstan announced that they tested their Arbalet-K air-defense missile system from a marine vessel called the Oral. This follows another test of anti-aircraft artillery from the Oral and three other Kazakh warships on the Caspian Sea on November 27, 2015. (Kucera, 2015)
It should be noted that State Kyiv Design Bureau “Luch”, which is the leading state military industrial enterprise of Ukraine, has shipped the Arbalet-K short-range shipborne air-defense system for the Maritime Border Guard Service of the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan. Actually, the Kazakh side is interested in fitting its naval ships with the Ukrainian Baryer-VK and Arbalet-K missile launchers. First and foremost, we are speaking of the fifth Project 0300 Bars-class patrol vessel, which is planned to be launched for Kazakhstan’s Navy in April 2016, so as of the fourth Project 250 Bars-MO-class missile patrol boat, which was recently ordered by the Kazakh Ministry of Defense.
Although the Arbalet-K air-defense missile system with Igla anti-aircraft missiles falling behind the Russian Kalibr-NK cruise missile system in technical matters it is easy to understand that it was not actually a “show of force”. The very fact of launching the test can be considered as Kazakhstan’s intention to clarify its positions on the issue of the Caspian Sea security. Since Kazakhstan is pursuing a multidimensional foreign policy approach, it seems essential for Astana not to allow anyone at any stage to take military control over the Caspian Sea. Therefore, the air-defense missile system tests seem to be rather a message aimed at reminding regional military powers at least to adhere to the Agreement on Security Cooperation in the Caspian Sea reached at the III Caspian Summit in Baku in 2010.
Since 2002, the practice for conducting large naval drills has become largely accepted by the Caspian Sea littoral states. However, such behavior only promotes militarization of the region forcing the Caspian Five countries to improve their military naval infrastructure. Moreover, the modernization of the seaports infrastructures, conducted by the littoral state in order to stimulate commercial shipping in the Caspian Sea, cause the indirect effect on the militarization of the Caspian sea by dynamizing strengthening the military fleets. For instance, within the frameworks of the expansion of Aktau seaport to the north, Kazakhstan’s authorities launched the project of construction of the offshore pier for parking military vessels. Currently, the naval ships of Kazakhstan are stationed at a distance of 140 kilometers from the Naval Base on a chartered pier in the Bautino village. (Kazakhstan 2050, 2015)
It is noteworthy to mention that in the early 1990s the majority of the littoral states were opposed to the militarization of the Caspian Sea. However, confronted with the large range of issues related to the growth of drug-trafficking from Iran or Turkmenistan to Russia, illegal trade of sturgeon and the terrorist risk, which might target the onshore and offshore oil and gas infrastructure, they have revised their positions. (Laruelle & Peyrouse, 2009) Being convinced of the necessity for the military supervision of the Caspian basin, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan decided to move ahead by forming national Caspian fleets.
It is obvious that the Caspian fleets are different from each other regarding their military strength. Among all Caspian fleets, the Russian Caspian Flotilla is still the most powerful one. Iran owns the second largest navy in the Caspian Sea after Russia. Therefore, it is understandable that Moscow and Tehran take their military domination over the region. Actually, past events clearly showed that Russia and Iran have achieved the advanced level of military cooperation. The parties not only established mutually beneficial partnership including the supply of the armament and military equipment but also combined strategic approaches to security issues inside and outside the Caspian region, especially, in Syria. On the other hand, Kazakhstan ensures its national security strategy in close collaboration with Russia. Both countries are founding members of the Eurasian Economic Union, which makes them closest allies on the issue of Eurasian integration. However, there is still a question on the issue of the Kazakh defense officials’ awareness of the Russian missiles strikes. A similar issue arises with respect to Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Therefore, it becomes apparent that the littoral states are still in the early stage of establishing collective security system in the Caspian region. Bilateral consultations on the development of the security cooperation between countries continue to be a priority for the littoral states.
Under these circumstances, the Russian Caspian Flotilla involvement in the Syrian conflict could cause middle-term negative implications for the willingness of the littoral states to work together for both launching a new legal regime of the Caspian Sea and establishing the reliable relationship among the Caspian Five.
Cavas, C. P. (2015, October). Caspian Sea Fleet a Game-Changer? Retrieved from: http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/naval/ships/2015/10/11/caspian-…
Kazakhstan 2050. (2015, December). Pier for Naval Forces of Kazakhstan to be built in 2016. Retrieved from: https://strategy2050.kz/en/news/29958/
Kucera, J. (2015, December). Following Russia, Kazakhstan Tests Missile On Caspian. Retrieved from: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/76576
Laruelle, M., & Peyrouse, S. (2009). The Militarization of the Caspian Sea: “Great Games” and “Small Games” Over the Caspian Fleets. The China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, 7(2), 18-35.
The Japan Times. (2015, October). Russia wakes up Caspian Sea fleet to fire cruise missiles into Syria. Retrieved from: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/10/10/world/russia-wakes-caspian-s…
Lydiya Parkhomchik (nee Timofeyenko) was born on February 9, 1984 in Zelenodolsk city, located at the territory of the Republic of Tatarstan (Russia). Since 1986 she became resident of the Republic of Kazakhstan. She graduated the high school in 2001 and at the same year she admitted to Abylai khan Kazakh University of International Relations and World Languages. She graduated from International Relations Department with specialization of analyst with knowledge of a foreign language in 2006 and after that started to work as a lecturer at the Chair of International Relations of KazUIR & WL.