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Turkmen Report: February 12, 2001

12 February 2001
Ukraine Postpones Ratification Of Gas Accord With Turkmenistan

9 February 2001

The Ukrainian parliament refused on Thursday to ratify the presidential resolution "On the construction and financing of state-important investment objects in Turkmenistan."

The resolution, signed by presidents Leonid Kuchma and Saparmurat Niyazov on 4 October 2000, aims to ensure uninterrupted supplies of Turkmen gas and timely payment of shipment bills.

Parliament Chairman Ivan Plusch proposed that the committee on fuel and energy complex substantiate the necessity of ratifying the document and submit it for the next session. (Itar-Tass)

Imprisoned Baptist Leader In Turkmenistan Treated With Deadly Drugs

9 February 2001

An imprisoned Baptist leader in the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan is being given powerful mind-altering drugs that are severely damaging his health, a human rights organization said on Thursday.

Shageldy Atakov, 38, is serving a four-year sentence in a labor camp after a conviction on charges of swindling, which supporters say were fabricated to obstruct his church activities, according to the Keston Institute, which monitors religious freedom in former communist states.

Atakov, who was arrested in 1998, is a member of a Baptist congregation affiliated with the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, the institute said.

Turkmenistan, a former Soviet republic ruled by authoritarian President Saparmurat Niyazov, has a history of harsh persecution of dissent and of religious groups other than Russian Orthodox Christians and Sunni Muslims, according to human rights organizations.

Twice this year already, Turkmen police have raided Bible-study meetings held by a Protestant church in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat, detaining some 25 people, the Keston Institute reported. The organization said the raids were part of a "series of moves to crush Protestant activity in the Central Asian state."

In prison, Atakov is being treated with potentially disabling drugs aminazin and prometazin, although he has no mental problems, the Keston Institute said, citing a letter by the prisoner's family.

Aminazin, also known as chlorpromazine or thorazine, is a powerful drug used in the treatment of the mental illness schizophrenia. It can damage the liver and kidneys.

Prometazin is an antihistamine that can relieve allergy symptoms, but is also a hypnotic that induces sleep.

"After these injections all his internal organs ache," the family wrote. "Our husband and brother is a psychologically normal person. Why is this being done to him?"

The use of psychotropic drugs on political prisoners was a favored tool of the KGB during the Soviet era. Dissidents were routinely pronounced insane, locked up in psychiatric hospitals and given drugs that harmed their minds and bodies.

Atakov�s wife, Artygul, visited him on 3 and 4 February, and reported that he was severely bruised, could barely walk, and often lost consciousness. He was also suffering from jaundice, and his kidneys and liver ached, the Keston Institute said.

Amnesty International, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Helsinki Commission of the U.S. Congress urged Niyazov to free Atakov.

"Atakov is believed to have been treated so harshly in prison that he is in imminent danger of dying," the Helsinki Commission said in a statement. (AP)

Click here for a photo of Shagildy Atakov, his wife Artygul, and one of their children.

Caspian Five May Be Result Of Summit In Turkmenistan

9 February 2001

A decision on setting up a Caspian Five may be made by a summit of the heads of the Caspian Sea littoral states to be held in the town of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk) in March this year, the RIA Novosti [Russian] news agency has reported, quoting an informed source in Moscow.

The question of setting up a Caspian Five will be considered at a meeting of Caspian working groups at the level of deputy foreign ministers of the Caspian Sea littoral states to be held in Tehran on 21-22 February, the source said. The meeting will in effect be the preparation phase of the summit. The meeting will discuss a whole range of questions concerning problems of the Caspian Sea, as well as the text of a joint statement by the heads of the Caspian Sea littoral states.

It should be noted that in covering foreign political themes, RIA cooperates very closely with the Russian Foreign Ministry. In this context, the theory that setting up a Caspian Five was the Russian Foreign Ministry�s idea seems very plausible. (BBC monitoring/

Still No Final Decision On Holding Caspian State Summit In Turkmenistan

9 February 2001

The presidents of the Caspian Sea states are considering Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov�s proposal that a summit of the Caspian states be held in the city of Turkmenbashi this March, but not all potential summit participants have given "full confirmation" yet, Kazakh Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov said on Friday in Astana after a closed-door discussion devoted to the legal status of the Caspian Sea in the republic�s parliament.

Idrisov emphasized that the presidents of the Caspian countries have "a common understanding of the fact that summits are not held for the sake of holding summits -- their purpose is to achieve results."

The legal status of the Caspian Sea is "a very important issue," he pointed out. If the Caspian presidents reach agreement as to the use of the Sea�s resources, and also on navigation, fishing, and ecological issues, that would be a satisfactory result, the minister said. (Interfax-Kazakhstan)

Russian, Kazakh, Tajiki, and Turkmen Participants In Consortium Of Military Academies And Institutes Discuss Central Asian Security

9 February 2001

The Consortium of Military Academies and Institutes where experts from Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan participated held its second session in Bishkek on studying security problems in Central Asia. This forum is carried out under the initiative of the International Institute of Strategic Research (IISR) of Kyrgyzstan, with the support of the George Marshall International Security Research Center.

According to Vyacheslav Hamisov, scientific secretary of IISR, topics of discussion at the conference were: crisis management in Central Asia, research opportunities, stabilizing the new situation in Central Asia, preventing threats to security, and military-political conflict probability.

The consortium also discussed the formation of "good crisis management" concepts through education and research, and the development of solutions to regional problems in Central Asia through dialogue and contacts. The decision was made to involve a wide spectrum of scientists and representatives of military and civil structures, including those, on who acceptance of decisions at national and regional levels depends, in solving these problems.

In addition, the Afghan conflict's impact on the security in Central Asia and the problem of drug trafficking in Central Asia as a destabilizing factor in the region were considered.

During discussion of the topic "Modeling of national security systems in Central Asia: internal political aspects," special interest was given to the "Turkmen model of security" within the framework of neutrality in the region. Studying of this experience has shown that, according to certain parameters, this model has proved to be the steadiest and most viable, especially considering the restless situation in Afghanistan. The consortium's next meeting was also set, and will take place in Moscow. ("Kabar" Information Agency)

Turkey Offers to Help Uzbekistan Combat Terrorism

9 February 2001

Turkey's new ambassador to Uzbekistan, Resit Uman, told journalists in Tashkent on 8 February that Ankara wants to develop "an active political dialogue" with Tashkent and is prepared to share its expertise in fighting terrorism, Interfax reported. "We have common interests in fighting religious extremism and terrorism. Any terrorist activities against Uzbekistan are activities against Turkey," the Russian agency quoted Uman as saying.

During a visit by Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer to Tashkent last fall, he and his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov signed an agreement on cooperation in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline", 17 October 2000). (RFE/RL).

Oil, Gas Output Up In Western Turkmenistan

9 February 2001

State oil company Turkmenneft produced 570,000 tons of oil and gas condensate, and 800 million cubic meters of natural gas in western Turkmenistan in January, respectively seven times and 40% more year-on-year.

Gas deliveries to Iran along the Korpedje-Kurt-kui pipeline were up 80% to 560 million cubic meters in January, Turkmenneft told Interfax. (Interfax)

Azerbaijani Leader To Participate In Turkmen Caspian Summit

8 February 2001

Turkmen Television broadcast this message from Azeri President Heidar Aliyev to Turkmen President Saparmurat Turkmenbashi (Niyazov):

"To his excellency, the Turkmen president, Mr. Saparmurat Niyazov!

"Esteemed Saparmurat Atayevich, I highly assess your proposal to convene a summit of the Caspian Sea littoral countries to resolve the issue of the sea�s legal status and I�m with great pleasure accepting your invitation to take part in it.

"I hope that an agreement will be reached on the said issue on the basis of mutual understanding.

"I pay great attention to strengthening friendly relations between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, as these two countries play an important role in developing cooperation and ensuring stability in the Caspian region. I believe that the forthcoming meeting, which is very important for the Caspian Sea littoral countries, will help further strengthen historical good-neighborly and friendly relations.

"Respectfully yours, Heidar Aliev, the president of Azerbaijan." (BBC monitoring/ Turkmen TV)

State-Owned Turkmenneft Increases Oil Extraction Seven Percent In January

8 February 2001

According to data received by the Ashgabat correspondent of "" at the Ministry of Oil And Gas Industry and Mineral Resources, enterprises of the state-owned Turkmenneft (Turkmen Oil) increased oil extraction in January by seven percent, to 570 thousand tons.

For the current year, the company set its extraction target at 10 million tons of petroleum, compared to last year's figure of 7.1 million tons. The planned increase is due to restoration of old and commissioning of new oil wells, including wells on a shelf in the Caspian Sea.

According to results for January, Turkmenneft has extracted about 800 million cubic meters of gas -- exceeding similar parameters for last year by 40 percent. After processing, most of this volume is directed to the Korpeje-Kurt-Kui pipeline and exported to Iran. (

Smith Decries Turkmen Torture Of Baptist Minister Atakov

7 February 2000

United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today decried the cruel and unjust treatment of a Baptist minister in Turkmenistan, who reportedly is being tortured in prison.

"It sickens me to learn of the persecution of Baptist minister Shagildy Atakov, who, we believe, is being held prisoner and tortured because of his faith," Smith said. "According to the most recent information we have, Atakov told his wife he does not expect to survive his mistreatment.

"I urge the international diplomatic community to join me in calling for his immediate release," Smith continued. "And I pray that Turkmenistan�s President Saparmurat Niyazov will release the Reverend Atakov immediately and unconditionally."

The Reverend Shagildy Atakov was arrested on 18 December 1998 at his home in Turkmenbashi and charged with "fraud". On 19 March 1999, Atakov was fined $12,000 and sentenced to two years in prison. The average monthly wage in Turkmenistan is about $30.

Despite his conviction for an allegedly criminal offense, government officials have reportedly pressured Atakov and his family members to renounce their religious faith. Reverend Atakov has been subjected to brutal beatings and torture by prison officials.

After Atakov's second trial, set for 21 July 1999, was postponed because he had been too weakened by severe beatings, prosecutors increased his prison sentence by an additional two years and raised his fine by another $12,000.

In November 1999, Atakov was sent to a punishment cell for 15 days at Seydy labor camp. In March 2000, he was sent to a punishment cell for one month.

Atakov suffered symptoms of a heart attack last December, after which he was again sent to a punishment cell and severely beaten. The minister was reportedly so severely beaten during one round of torture that he was temporarily blinded.

Today, Atakov's life is in severe danger. The latest reports indicate that he told his wife on her recent visit that he does not expect to survive his abuse.

Amnesty International issued an urgent alert on Monday, urging Atakov's release.

In numerous letters to President Niyazov, Smith has urged Atakov�s release.

Turkmenistan�s government routinely responds that the minister committed "defrauding actions toward the citizens of Turkmenistan and the Russian Federation by illegally possessing their properties and money," and that his "conviction...has nothing to [do] with his religious beliefs."

However, Turkmenistan is the most repressive country in the former USSR. Under President Niyazov�s ironhanded rule, Turkmenistan, as an OSCE-participating state since 1992, remains a one-party police state which observes no human rights commitments. In the last few years, the government has noticeably stepped up harassment of religious communities and persecution of believers. In November1999, authorities demolished a Seventh-Day Adventist Church in the capital city, Ashgabat, after having destroyed a Hare Krishna temple.

In January, two political prisoners were amnestied, after recanting on television and praising President Niyazov. (Helsinki Commission - Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe)

Baku And Ashgabat Will Reach Agreement At Caspian Summit

7 February 2001

"We hope that the summit of leaders of Caspian littoral states, which will take place in one month, will help to resolve many questions, including the status of the Caspian Sea and disputed undersea petroleum deposits." Such a statement was made to the Media-Press agency by the representative of the government of Turkmenistan, who wished to remain unidentified.

As he said, there is every reason to believe that at the meeting in Turkmenbashi, which will be carried out under the initiative of President Saparmurat Niyazov, common ground will be found which should result in rapproachement of the positions of the Caspian littoral countries, in particular, between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

Moreover, he emphasized, "our two countries should overcome existing problems as we are not only historically and culturally close, but we are also neighbors."

Commenting on statements that the trans-Caspian project on exporting Turkmen and Azerbaijani gas to Turkey, "is frozen", Media-Press has expressed the hope that during the summit in Turkmenbashi this problem will be solved.

"The question is that Azerbaijan has one point of view on gas-pumping quotas on this pipeline, and Turkmenistan another. But it does not mean that the positions of the parties cannot become closer. If both Ashgabat and Baku recognize that this gas pipeline is necessary for them, a solution will be found," a high-ranking Turkmen representative said. (Media-Press)

Iran Completes Construction of Gas-Processing Plant In Turkmenistan

6 February 2001

Iranian specialists have completed the construction of a gas-processing plant in Korpedje, Turkmenistan, with an output of 26 million cubic meters of gas per day, the news agency IRNA reported, citing a representative of the Iranian company NIOECC (Iranian Oil Engineering and Construction Company), Hossein Karimi Ashtiani. According to Ashtiani, the output of the plant can be increased up to 33 million of cubic meters per day by mounting additional equipment.

This firm is part of the $190 million project to export Turkmen "light-blue fuel" to Iran, with Iran to receive 35 percent of this gas as payment for implementation of the project. A representative of NIOECC said that a 135-kilometer-long, 40-inch gas pipeline has been laid from Korpedje to the Iranian-Turkmen border as part of the project.

In addition, the Iranian side has offered to conduct training for technical and engineering staff at the gas-processing plant. According to IRNA, the export pipeline will join the Iranian gas network in Kurt-Kui, situated 60 kilometers from the Iranian-Turkmen border.

At present, the Korpedje-Kurt Kui pipeline is a unique possibility for Turkmenistan to export gas without using Russian pipelines, Media-Press reported. Ashgabat is attempting to increase its efficiency, but as of yet there are definite differences between the countries on the price for delivered gas. And another export project -- the trans-Caspian gas pipeline -- appears "frozen," as Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan can't agree on the quotas of gas in this project. (Media-Press)

Amnesty International: Turkmen Religious Activist Suffers Jail Beating

6 February 2001

Amnesty International says a detained Turkmen Christian is feared critically ill as a result of beatings by prison guards.

The human rights group said in a statement today that Shagildy Atakov, a Baptist, has been confined to a prison hospital since being severely beaten in December. The statement quoted his wife, who visited him two days ago, as saying he frequently loses consciousness and has difficulty walking.

Atakov was sentenced to two years in a labor camp and fined $12,000 in 1999 on accusations of financial fraud. His sentence was later increased to four years.

But Amnesty alleges that the real reason for his imprisonment could be his religious affiliation. The group says that in Turkmenistan, religious groups other than Russian Orthodox Christians and Sunni Muslims have faced harassment and imprisonment. (AFP/ Amnesty International statement)

Second TAE Line Under Construction In Turkmenistan

6 February 2001

The construction of the second line of the Trans-Asian-European (TAE) optic fiber communication project between Shanghai and Frankfurt-on-Maine has begun in Turkmenistan.

Branches of Turkmentelecom are preparing to lay some of the cable. The line will go from Ashgabat to Turkmenbashi (former Krasnovodsk), a distance of 600 kilometers.

The first line was built in 1998, a source in Turkmentelecom has said. A 700-kilometer Turkmen section between Ashgabat and Mary-Turkmenabat (former Chardzhou) is connected to the Iranian section not far from Ashgabat. The new line will reach Transcaucasia.

Turkmenistan will now offer more transit services in international communication, Turkmentelecom said. The first line brings Turkmenistan more than $4 million annual benefits. The second line will double the profits. It will be built within two years. (Itar-Tass)

Azerbaijan Claims 50 Percent Of Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline

5 February 2001

Azerbaijan should have not less than half of the shares of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, and also the possibility to pump gas from the Shakhdeniz deposit. This is the position of Azerbaijan in continuing negotiations with Turkmenistan, first vice-president of GNKAR (State Oil Company of Azerbaijan) Ilham Aliyev told "Turan". He said the implementation of this project without the participation of Azerbaijan and taking into account its interests is impossible. He added that if all the countries participating in the project -- Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkmenistan, and Turkey -- are interested in the implementation of the project, the signing of the framework agreement can be held shortly, the Research center "Glasnost � Caucasus" reports. ("Finmarket")

Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan To Hold Negotiations On Resolving Debts

5 February 2001

According to government sources, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan will hold negotiations on settlement of their mutual liabilities as soon as possible. This is to completed before the first meeting of the Turkmen-Kazakhstan intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation, which is scheduled for the first half of this year. According to the Central Bank of Turkmenistan, the Republic of Kazakhstan's debt to Turkmenistan on 1 January 2001 stands at $52.7 million, of which $21.8 million is for deliveries of Turkmen gas during 1993-94 and $28.9 million is for electric power from 1995 to 2000. (

Gas Supply To Ashgabat Interrupted By Pipe Rupture

4 February 2001

A pipeline accident has stopped the gas supply to Ashgabat. There was a rupture in the Tedzhen-Ashgabat-Byuzmein gas pipeline 40 kilometers from Ashgabat, and the gas supply was interrupted. Repairs are underway. The gas supply is expected to resume by Monday morning.

This is the first stoppage in the gas supply to Ashgabat over the past few years. The local authorities will now pay closer attention to the pipe, which is many years old. (Itar-Tass)

Hightened Diplomacy Ahead Of Summit On Caspian Sea

10 February 2001

By Michael Lelyveld

Diplomacy has intensified in the Caspian Sea region as the five shoreline states prepare positions on sharing the oil-rich waterway for a summit in Turkmenistan next month.

In the past few days, envoys from Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan have all paid calls on Iran to smooth the way for a Caspian working group, which is expected to meet in Tehran in the middle of this month.

Deputy foreign ministers from the five nations hope to break their long deadlock on a formula for a legal division of Caspian resources, clearing the way for unchallenged investment in the post-Soviet period. A summit meeting of the five presidents is planned for the port city of Turkmenbashi to seal the results in the first week of March.

So far, the diplomatic process has produced a series of vague statements that mask frictions and make it hard to determine whether progress is being made or not.

After meeting with Kazakh Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov, Iranian President Mohammed Khatami shed little light on the question, saying the littoral states "should formulate the legal regime through negotiations and understanding in order to meet the security concerns of the countries in the region."

A Kazakh Foreign Ministry communique was equally opaque, saying only that the two countries were searching for a "mutually acceptable compromise." Diplomatic language is needed to put the best face on conflicts that have yet to be resolved.

Iran and Kazakhstan have been on opposite sides of the Caspian question for nearly three years. Kazakhstan was the first country to agree with Russia on a formula that would split the seabed into national sectors but keep the water and its surface in common. Iran has sought at least 20 percent of the entire Caspian.

Tehran is worried that open waters would allow Russian warships to roam too close to Iranian shores. The importance of that fear was reflected in Khatami�s reference to "security concerns" rather than oil.

But a further problem is that Russia's plan for sectors based on a modified median line would give Kazakhstan the largest piece of the Caspian and Iran the least. Any increase in Iran's share would have to come at the expense of its neighbors. Such problems are difficult for even the most skillful diplomats to resolve.

But officials have tried by focusing on matters of mutual interest. Kazakh oil is key to Iran�s plan to provide a Caspian export route that would compete with the U.S.-backed plan for a pipeline from Baku to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

Negotiators seem to be working toward an announcement that Kazakhstan has started shipping oil to Iran for exports through swaps, allowing Iran to use the crude at its refineries while moving an equal amount through the Persian Gulf. The Kazakhs have also backed the idea of a consortium to build an oil pipeline through Iran. The question is whether the deals could be part of a package to overcome Caspian sticking points.

Other countries have also been stressing their broader interests with Iran. On his visit to Tehran, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov called for expanding relations. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Ahani reciprocated, calling the trend in ties with Russia "positive". In diplomatic parlance, such statements are often taken to mean that no real breakthroughs have occurred.

Ahani used identical terms to describe relations with Azerbaijan during a visit Wednesday by Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov. Tensions between the two neighbors have been particularly hard to camouflage. But new efforts are under way.

Iran�s anger may be slowly subsiding after Baku reached its own agreement with Moscow in early January, siding with Russia on the division issue. The pact was followed by harsh recriminations in the Iranian press.

But there have been some signs of warming during the runup to the Caspian talks. Late last month, the two countries signed agreements on restoring Iranian electricity supplies to Azerbaijan�s enclave of Nakhichevan and rescheduling its debts. In Tehran, Khalafov also raised the possibility that Iran may pipe gas to Nakhichevan.

Iran publicized a shipment of aid to Azerbaijan's poor last week and proposed that the two countries lift visa requirements to increase contacts and trade.

Azerbaijan�s ANS television reacted with suspicion, saying that the opening "could also create wide opportunities for Iranian secret services, who could start using the Azeri youth for some reasons." The station also raised similar questions last week with a delegation of visiting Iranian businessmen, asking if they traded with Armenia.

Such responses may frustrate efforts to focus on the broader benefits of solving the Caspian problem. But better regional relations could be either the cause or the consequence of an agreement, if one is reached. (RFE/RL)

Sea Change In The Caspian?

9 February 2001

The presidents of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan will hold a summit in March in the Turkmen city of Turkmenbashi. Deputy foreign ministers from each country are already working out details and possible areas of cooperation, according to IRNA. Among the items on the agenda is a reported Russian initiative to create a five-sided Caspian Sea forum, through which the five littoral nations can discuss common issues.

The Caspian Sea, a landlocked body of water surrounded by Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan, potentially holds oil and gas reserves valued in the billions of barrels and trillions of cubic meters, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

But competing territorial claims on oil and gas fields have limited production, exploration, and exploitation of the Caspian�s mineral resources. The fall of the Soviet Union created three new states: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. Previously, only the Soviet Union and Iran shared the Caspian Sea. Now there are five, each wanting as much of the seabed as possible.

Now the littoral states may believe they can form a roundtable -- one that may ultimately lead to a division of the Caspian and its resources. Following that, however, regional tensions and competing national interests could limit additional avenues for cooperation.

Talks between Russia and Iran, two countries with different views concerning the Caspian Sea�s division, may have led to the new grouping. In January, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev visited Iran to discuss improving ties. According to an unnamed Iranian source, the defense minister also discussed repartitioning of the Caspian Sea, reported the London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" 29 December.

Russia has been active elsewhere. In January, Moscow and Baku reached common ground in solving competing territorial issues. Russia conceded to a demarcation of the Caspian seabed based on a modified median line -- to be determined later. This agreement mirrored a 1998 agreement between Kazakhstan and Russia. The crux of these agreements was that each state had exclusive rights to mineral resources in its sector of the seabed, while the waters were to be jointly administered. This is a significant modification of Russia�s previous position that Caspian resources should be shared evenly.

While the forum�s creation signals the littoral states are willing to discuss Caspian issues, other issues concerning regional security can keep them apart. The Caspian forum is unlikely to come to a territorial agreement in the near term.

Russia has proven similar arrangements can produce meaningful results. For example, Russia in 1996 spearheaded the formation of the Shanghai Five, which comprised China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. This regional grouping originally convened to resolve border issues, namely demarcation of the border with China.

Having solved border and other interstate issues, the Shanghai Five took on the additional task of regional security. But competing national agendas interfered with their cooperation. For example, differences between Russia and China over Afghanistan exposed rifts within the forum. If the group expands, additional members -- such as Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- will exacerbate existing fissures.

Much like the Shanghai Five, the "Caspian Five" should eventually achieve success on border issues and lead to the exploitation of resources in the Caspian Sea. But it will face similar complications to the Shanghai Five. Afghanistan�s war affects Iran, Russia, and Tajikistan. The Chechen conflict affects Azerbaijan. Additionally, conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan involve Russian and Iranian interests. These regional conflicts have the potential to divert the new Caspian forum once immediate border and economic issues are resolved. (Stratfor Commentary)

Iran Concerned Over Russian Naval Power in Caspian

6 February 2001

By Michael Lelyveld

Iran's security advisers are concerned that Russian naval power in the Caspian Sea may pose a serious threat to the country, according to a report attributed to a former senior Iranian diplomatic aide.

The report on Iranian approaches to the division of the Caspian Sea says that the advisers to Iran�s High National Security Council have urged a solution that would bar passage for Russian warships near Iranian shores.

The paper attributed to Abbas Maleki, a former deputy foreign minister, said the Iranian security view "considers the disappearances of Iran-Russian borders due to the collapse of (the) former Soviet Union as the most significant event in Iran�s foreign affairs history, and regards the presence of the Russian naval forces in the Caspian as a potential threat."

Maleki is now chairman of the International Institute for Caspian Studies, a non-governmental think tank in Tehran that includes current officials on its academic board.

The report, which was circulated in English in the West last week, cites suspicions that Russia's plan for dividing the Caspian is aimed at helping it to project its naval power and to dominate its neighbors. Moscow has proposed a "dual regime" that would divide the Caspian seabed into national sectors, while keeping the water and its surface in common.

The study said that "some experts believe that the reason for Russia�s emphasis on a dual regime for the Caspian surface and seabed indicates a Russian desire for hegemony in the Caspian. Other Caspian states do not have any significant naval forces in the Caspian, while Russia has about 100 warships in the port of Astrakhan, many of which were transferred there via the Volga-Don canal following a dispute between Ukraine and Russia, the report said.

The statement echoes the objections that Iran raised last month after Russia staged naval war games in the Caspian during President Vladimir Putin�s visit to Azerbaijan.

At the time, the official news agency IRNA quoted an "informed source" at the Iranian Foreign Ministry as saying, "Iran believes that there is no threat in the Caspian Sea to justify the war games and military presence, and such measures will harm the confidence-building efforts of the littoral states in the region."

Both the statement and the report offer a rare glimpse of Iran�s security concerns about Russia, which Iranian officials usually express only privately.

The question about Russia�s motives comes amid intense diplomatic activity in the days before meetings of the five shoreline states to resolve the issue of a legal division of the Caspian. A presidential summit in Turkmenistan�s port city of Turkmenbashi is expected by early March, while a working group of deputy foreign ministers may meet in Tehran later this month.

So far, Russia appears to have lined up Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan to endorse the outline of its proposals, while Putin has hinted that Turkmenistan may soon agree. Iran has insisted that it is entitled to at least a 20 percent share of the entire Caspian, including both the seabed and the surface. Other formulas based on land borders would give it far less. Turkmenistan has publicly stated its support for Iran, affirming that no solution can be binding without its consent.

The report focuses on the reasons behind Iran�s stand, without necessarily embracing the security point of view. It also outlines an "economic approach" to the division question, which it says was the dominant view during the administration of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Under the economic approach, Iran concentrated on its relationship with Russia as "the most important player in the region" and "a source of high tech equipment, military technology and scientific know-how," the report said. The position also backed the condominium principle of keeping the Caspian in common, arguing it would "serve the best interests of Iran."

Tehran's current position that it should have at least 20 percent of the Caspian is apparently a sign that the security view has prevailed.

The report explained the advantage of drawing national sectors on the water�s surface, saying, "the avoidance of water boundaries with Russia will immunize Iran from any potential threat posed by Russia because the Central Asian and trans-Caucasian states can act as buffer zones between the two nations." Under a sectoral division, Russia�s waters would be bounded by those of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

The paper is of interest because it portrays the deep lingering concerns about Russian power, which are rooted in the Anglo-Russian control of Persia in 1907, and the British and Soviet occupation of Iran in 1941. The memories have been stirred by Moscow�s pressure on the Caspian issue, and they have not been calmed by Russia�s recent pledges of friendship, cooperation, and arms sales.

An Iranian diplomat contacted by RFE on Friday said he had no knowledge of the report and was not immediately able to confirm its authenticity. The diplomat said Maleki "doesn�t necessarily reflect the official position of the country," but he added that "he has good sources."

As a government official, Maleki was instrumental in establishing early contacts with American scholars on Iran. The International Institute for Caspian Studies was founded in 1998. (RFE/ RL)