Episode 29. Who Controls the Caspian Sea?
In this episode, host Michael Hilliard talks with our three guests about the Caspian Sea, a region of rising importance particularly because of its energy resources. We dive into the history of the region and how that history informs the current geopolitical arena, tracking all the way back to the Russian Empire. We dive deep into the current economic situation and why the Caspian region has parties interested from Beijing to Berlin.
Geopolitical analyst and speaker for the Center for Global Policy, a non-partisan think tank specialising in U.S. foreign policy with Muslim-majority countries.
Lecturer at the Foreign Service Institute, the US federal government's primary training institution for U.S. foreign affairs employees.
Senior fellow for the Expert Center for Eurasian Development in Moscow.
Former researcher at the Chatham House Royal Institute of International Relations
An expert for the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and an expert on Russian strategic development.
Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, a non-partisan think tank in Ontario.
Expert on Eurasia for the NATO association of Canada, an NGO that promotes understanding of NATO in Canada.
Senior fellow at the Institute of European, Russian & Eurasian Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa.
Part 1: A Soviet Lake? (01:40)
In Part 1 with Eugene Chausovsky, we take an overview of the historical development of the Caspian, covering the legal, economic and military arrangements in the sea, and analyse the potential it has to grow in importance over the coming decades.
How does the Caspian Sea compare to the Black Sea? Historically the latter has been more geopolitically central and seen greater development; to what extent will this change over the coming decades?
The Caspian has the potential to be a strong regional crossroads for trade and resource extraction - how might the littoral Caspian states go about achieving that potential?
Chausovsky also provides an overview of the Aktau Treaty, the key legal agreement between the Caspian states that governs the sea, as well as each signatory’s key imperatives in the region, the prospects for Western involvement and lists the navies that operate in the sea.
Part 2: Big Fish in a Small Pond (15:10)
In Part 2 with Stanislav Pritchin, we focus on the biggest fish in the pond - Russia. Tracing the history of competition over the sea and the rapid changes to the geopolitical landscape following the fall of the Soviet Union, Pritchin breaks down the imperatives of each of the littoral Caspian states and the naval situation on the water.
Russia is the most important player in this region and has been for centuries. Pritchin takes us back through history, exploring Russia’s involvement in the region from the days of the Russian Empire, to the Soviet Union and through to their current modern day interests and strategic goals.
Historically, the Caspian Sea has been in contention between Russia and Persia/Iran. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the creation of new independent states in the region, the power balance has shifted drastically, Pritchin helps us understand the new status quo.
We tackle the interested parties further afield, including the prospects of US involvement and the development work China is undertaking as part of the Belt and Road initiative.
How do the five navies that call the Caspian home compare technologically and numerically, and what likelihood is there of conflict in the region?
Part 3: Pipe Dream (29:33)
Robert M Cutler’s specialisation in energy policy and strategic issues in Central Asia is brought to full bear in this part, which focuses extensively on the development of infrastructure and pipelines in the region and the parties interested in its development.
It features analysis of the interests of both the littoral Caspian states and the wider geopolitical sphere, including China and Europe.
The Aktau treaty is the most important legislation on the Caspian Sea, and Cutler explains some of the particular aspects of its negotiation process, the legal significance it holds and the implications it has for the development of infrastructure in the region, such as the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline.
The Caspian Sea and surrounding region has some of the largest energy resources in the world, particularly in natural gas. To develop and export these, several pipelines and development projects together comprise the Trans-Caspian corridor, a series of projects that have the potential to inject significant competition into the Eurasian energy market. These developments would present a huge shift in the energy market where Russia is currently by far the primary player. Cutler helps us understand the economic, logistic and political implications and challenges that those seeking to progress this corridor face.
The Red Line's Caspian Reading List:
Want to know more about this topic? We’ve put together a reading list to help you get across the geopolitics of the Caspian Sea region.
The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus
The legal status of the Caspian Sea: current challenges and prospects for future development
The Caspian Sea Encyclopedia
Igor S. Zonn, Aleksey N Kosarev, Michael Glantz, Andrew G Kostianoy
The new great game: blood and oil in Central Asia
Eurasian corridors of interconnection: from the South China to the Caspian Sea
Susan M. Walcott, Corey Johnson
The Geopolitics of the Caspian Sea Basin
The new dynamics in the Caspian Sea region: The rivalry for hold on the region
The reality of environmental cooperation and the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea
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This episode is dedicated to Patreon member Jacob Mohs.