by Matthew Riemer
December 16, 2002
If recent history is a reliable indicator of things to come, then the Caspian Sea region may well become one of the world's leading centers of international conflict. The past has invariably shown that areas rich in resources are rife with conflict. With the addition of multiple states vying for those resources and a dash of instability, one has the necessary ingredients for war and protracted conflict.
Such has been the case in the Middle East over the course of the last half-century. Beginning in 1953 with the CIA's overthrow of the democratically elected Mohammad Mosadiq government in Iran for nationalizing the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) to the U.S.' Operation Desert Storm to today's bogus war with one of the charter members of the "axis of evil," oil has always played a central role.
There's currently conflict in one of the world's leading oil producers and third largest exporter to the U.S. -- Venezuela. Following the failed coup in April to overthrow elected leader President Hugo Chavez, much to Washington's glee unrest is once again brewing, as strikes fueled by anti-Chavez generals, employers, and oil executives beholden to foreign corporations are destabilizing the country. They believe that Chavez, the populist socialist, who doesn't necessarily think that foreign business interests come first when governing his country, has no place heading a state as critical as Venezuela.
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the fledgling Russian Federation scrambled to maintain its intimidating image as well as its resources by cracking down on the breakaway republic of Chechnya, which lay in the crucial avenue of the North Caucasus on the Western shores of the Caspian Sea. That was in 1994 and there's been a war going on ever since. And if the writing on the wall is correct, the situation is going to continue to deteriorate, further destabilizing the region.
Georgia, partial home to the under construction Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, is also experiencing turbulence as it grapples with breakaway republics of its own as well as continued threats from Moscow regarding the harboring of Chechen guerrillas. This has obviously not gone unnoticed in Washington, as military personnel and "trainers" have been dispatched to Georgia to shore up their ailing military.
Azerbaijan, whose capital is the origin of the BTC pipeline, is playing a delicate diplomatic and economic game with Iran; there's no love lost between the two neighbors, but they need one another economically. As debates over offshore drilling in the Caspian continue unresolved, this relationship may prove more tenuous than once thought.
On November 25th in Turkmenistan, there was an attempted assassination of eccentric Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. The removal of Niyazov is a desire spoken about openly in Moscow; it's unclear whether Russian intelligence had any hand in the events, though this is widely rumored.
The Caspian region has all the earmarks of potential instability and inevitable war --multiple countries and companies jockeying for a finite amount of resources and wealth, lack of a legal framework to determine who has legitimate access to that wealth, a plethora of ethnicities looking for independence, and rampant government corruption and organized crime. (See "Asian states battle over Caspian wealth")
Now, highly organized, international terrorist groups with economic disruption as their calling card are proving themselves worthy opponents for the best intelligence and military skills the "civilized world" has to offer. With the strikes on the USS Cole, the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon, right through to the most recent terrorist targets in Bali and Mombasa, Kenya, the pace of the attacks has not been deterred. (See "Terrorism's threat to globalization")
Recently, a senior Al Qaeda member alluded to Central Asian and Caucasian oil pipelines as being possible targets; analysts see this as fully within the organization's capabilities and interests. These threats are now made all the more real by the increasing tension between Chechnya and Russia, as the Chechen cause is increasingly seen as one of utmost importance to many Islamists.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has also threatened to use nuclear weapons to achieve his goals of ending the Chechen problem once and for all. Such rhetoric is countered by Chechen guerrillas who threaten to strike at nuclear facilities or use "dirty bombs" of their own design.
So, with the situation in Chechnya becoming more globally significant and Islamists becoming more involved there, it is a safe bet that the Caucasus and Central Asia will become the next war zones for the nebulous terrorist networks. Combine that with the recent threats from al Qaeda, and attacks in the region are really a matter of when. And the more President Putin fans the flames, not only with Chechnya but also with Georgia, the greater the chance the Caspian region will become the next battle ground between "good" and "evil."
Matthew Riemer has written for years about a myriad of topics, such as: philosophy, religion, psychology, culture, and politics. He studied Russian language and culture for five years and traveled in the former Soviet Union in 1990. He is a columnist and editor with Yellow Times.org, where this article first appeared. Matthew lives in the United States, and he encourages your comments: mriemer@YellowTimes.org