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04/07/2008 | Russia - Medvedev's Whistle Stop Tour

Stratfor Staff

New Russian President Dmitri Medvedev on July 3 began a short tour of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan on his way to the July 7 G8 summit in Japan. The tour illustrates Moscow’s desire to consolidate its influence over countries that are strategically important to Russia.

 

New Russian President Dmitri Medvedev set out July 3 for a tour of several former Soviet states on his way to the G8 meeting in Japan on July 7. Medvedev will stop off in Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, three countries that have already met with the new president — some more than once — in the two short months since he took office. The tour clearly demonstrates Moscow’s move to consolidate its relationships with countries of strategic importance to Russia.

Just two weeks after taking the helm in Moscow on May 7, Medvedev made his first official foreign trip, heading east to Kazakhstan and China rather than the traditional Russian presidential voyage westward to Europe. Medvedev’s choice was a sign that Russia’s focus was not mostly on the West anymore and that Moscow was in the process of not only consolidating its relationship with Kazakhstan but also showing China that Moscow still considers Central Asia to be Russian turf.

Central Asia and Azerbaijan are strategically important to Russia for several reasons. First, they are part of Russia’s periphery that has many other large and looming powers on the other side — such as China on the other side of Central Asia and Iran on the other side of Azerbaijan. The West has also infiltrated the former Soviet regions interested in their large energy wealth. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan each have considerable oil and natural gas supplies which are just now being significantly tapped:

·         Kazakhstan is estimated (on the high end) to have 40 billion barrels of oil reserves and 3 trillion cubic meters of natural gas.

·         Turkmenistan is estimated to have 3 trillion cubic meters of natural gas and some of the world’s largest natural gas fields, as well as 2-6 billion barrels of oil.

·         Azerbaijan has an estimated 13 billion barrels of oil reserves and 2 trillion cubic meters of natural gas.

Russia already has Soviet-era connections in place with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, though these lines are aged and do not tap the greater energy wealth from these countries. Russia also has infrastructure in place with Azerbaijan, though its purpose was to supply Azerbaijan with Russian energy until 2005, since Azerbaijan’s energy reserves were unexploited until recently. But Russia is faced with large competition from the West, Middle East and China for Central Asian and Caucasus energy.

 

Russia currently relies on supplies from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to help fill its export orders in Europe. If those supplies get diverted from Russian pipelines, then Russia could not fill its orders. Moreover, Russia is seeing declining oil and natural gas production, so it is looking to Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan to make up the difference in the future. If the supplies from those three countries are diverted to either the West or China, then not only is Russia in an energy crunch, but it will lose some of its ability to use energy policy as a political tool.

This is where Medvedev is stepping in. He is looking to consolidate Moscow’s ties with Baku, Ashgabat and Astana, though each in a different way.

Medvedev has already met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev twice since becoming president, with energy and Azerbaijan’s security on the table. Azerbaijan has been locked into a tense disagreement with its neighbor Armenia over the secessionist region of Nagorno-Karabakh since the two countries went to war 20 years ago. With Baku’s newfound energy wealth, it has been ramping up its military and defenses — with much help from Russia. Azerbaijan also knows that Armenia is heavily reliant on Russia for political, economic and defense support — something that Baku resents. The Nagorno-Karabakh issue is one that Medvedev could exploit in the future to keep Azerbaijan open to Moscow’s wishes.

Turkmenistan has traditionally held an isolated and independent foreign policy in an attempt to keep from being under Beijing, Washington, Brussels or Moscow’s thumb. But since Ashgabat has started feeling the desire to reap the monetary benefits of its enormous energy wealth, it has been talking to each side about where to send Turkmen oil and natural gas. The problem is that Turkmenistan is signing deals with just about everyone and has not had its reserves developed enough to fill those deals. Two pipelines are already under construction — one going to Kazakhstan and then to China, and the other going to Russia. Both pipelines are expected to be completed in late 2009 without the supplies to fill both of them. Whereas Beijing is ready to front the cash to have its pipeline supplied, Russia is trying a different tactic. Russia has the cash to spend, but is forming a military relationship with its former Soviet state to help consolidate their ties.

Moscow has not yet revealed its plans for getting Kazakhstan’s energy supplies flowing into Russia. Money tends to get Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s attention, but Russia has not yet opened its wallet. Kazakhstan and Russia have other economic ties, such as the large Kazakh population living across the border, but Astana is looking for more from Moscow now.

Medvedev’s whistle stop tour to these three countries is imperative to Russia, as Moscow wants to prove its power globally once again. Though Moscow has energy and influence, it depends on these countries to create a buffer between Russia and other world powers. Furthermore, Moscow wants to make sure these countries’ energy supplies flow only where the Kremlin wants them to go.

Stratfor (Estados Unidos)

 


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