Russia Is Losing Its Dominant Position on the Caspian - The Jamestown Foundation


Russians are increasingly concerned that Moscow’s dominance of the Caspian Sea is being called into question. The possibility that outside powers could insert their navies there can dramatically change the already gradually shifting balance in the region. It also makes a new war more likely, with its outcomes less easy to predict. This is stated in an article by The Jamestown Foundation.

The recent exchange of statements between Baku and Yerevan on the operation of the so-called Zangezur land corridor (between Azerbaijan and the Nakhichevan exclave through southern Armenia) suggests a new outbreak of hostilities. And as the naval situation for Russia on the Caspian is slowly deteriorating, this in the long run opens the way to a fundamental reordering of relations in the South Caucasus.

The tripartite declarations of November 2020 and January 2021 (with the participation of Moscow, Yerevan and Baku) were to reopen transportation corridors as part of the post-war settlement between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Yerevan, which cannot afford this without outside help, has dragged its feet, fearful that Azerbaijan will quickly open the so-called Zangezur corridor. With each passing month, Azerbaijan becomes angrier that Armenia and its supporters in Moscow are not fulfilling their promises - President Ilham Aliyev has said he is “ready to use force against Armenia if it does not fulfill its agreements”. Yerevan, in its turn, sees the demand to provide a precise date for the opening of the Zangezur corridor as an ultimatum.

To prevent hostilities, Moscow relies on the presence of its troops in the region - bases in Armenia, “peacekeepers” in Karabakh and the Caspian Flotilla. But now Moscow is concerned about the rapid development of the navies of other littoral states, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan included. This means that Russia is no longer the “master” of the Caspian Sea, and at a minimum, it cannot intimidate others as it did in the past. And any real contest would involve losses that the Russian population would find difficult to accept.

Even more important is the fact that the 2018 convention, which divides the Caspian among the five littoral states and rejects the presence of any foreign-flagged naval vessels in the basin, has still not gone into effect. Despite pressure from Moscow, Iran has not yet ratified the agreement. Therefore, any non-Caspian country, including Turkey, is free to insert ships there if other littoral states agree.

Thus, Azerbaijan may take military action on the Zangezur corridor in the near future and leave Russia with far fewer options in response.