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Caspian Sea Basin

On the 8th June the Global Strategy Forum hosted the above lecture given by Dr Shirin Akiner. Outlined below are some of the key points from that lecture.

Overview

The origins of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) can be traced to the end of the Cold War. For much of the Cold War era relations between China and the Soviet Union were characterised by antagonism and suspicion. The heavily guarded Sino-Soviet border, for example, was fiercely contested territory prone to sporadic outbursts of conflict. However, in the early 1990s China embarked on a diplomatic initiative to change the status quo.

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By George Friedman

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited some interesting spots over the July 4 weekend. Her itinerary included Poland and Ukraine, both intriguing choices in light of the recent Obama-Medvedev talks in Washington. But she also traveled to a region that has not been on the American radar screen much in the last two years — namely, the Caucasus — visiting Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The stop in Poland coincided with the signing of a new agreement on ballistic missile defense and was designed to sustain U.S.-Polish relations in the face of the German-Russian discussions we have discussed. The stop in Ukraine was meant simply to show the flag in a country rapidly moving into the Russian orbit. In both cases, the trip was about the Russians. Regardless of how warm the atmospherics are between the United States and Russia, the fact is that the Russians are continuing to rebuild their regional influence and are taking advantage of European disequilibrium to build new relationships there, too. The United States, still focused on Iraq and Afghanistan, has limited surplus capacity to apply to resisting the Russians. No amount of atmospherics can hide that fact, certainly not from the Poles or the Ukrainians. Therefore, if not a substantial contribution, the secretary of state's visit was a symbolic one. But when there is little of substance, symbols matter.

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By Peter Zeihan

STRATFOR often discusses how Russia is on a bit of a roll. The U.S. distraction in the Middle East has offered Russia a golden opportunity to re-establish its spheres of influence in the region, steadily expanding the Russian zone of control into a shape that is eerily reminiscent of the old Soviet Union. Since 2005, when this process began, Russia has clearly reasserted itself as the dominant power in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Ukraine, and has intimidated places like Georgia and Turkmenistan into a sort of silent acquiescence.

But we have not spent a great amount of time explaining why this is the case. It is undeniable that Russia is a Great Power, but few things in geopolitics are immutable, and Russia is no exception.

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By Lauren Goodrich

This past week saw another key success in Russia's resurgence in former Soviet territory when pro-Russian forces took control of Kyrgyzstan.

The Kyrgyz revolution was quick and intense. Within 24 hours, protests that had been simmering for months spun into countrywide riots as the president fled and a replacement government took control. The manner in which every piece necessary to exchange one government for another fell into place in such a short period discredits arguments that this was a spontaneous uprising of the people in response to unsatisfactory economic conditions. Instead, this revolution appears prearranged.

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By Katia Zatuliveter, Research Associate, U K Defence Forum

After many months of negotiations, on Saturday 10th October 2009 Armenian and Turkish representatives met in Zurich and signed two documents: the Protocol on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations and the Protocol on Development of Relations between the two countries. This happened just 4 days before the 14 October World Cup qualifier match between Armenia and Turkey.

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By Adam Dempsey, Research Associate, U K Defence Forum

The Caspian Sea is the world's largest body of inland water by volume. According to the United Nations' Atlas of the Oceans the Caspian Sea covers a surface area of 371,000 km2 and has a maximum depth of 1025 metres. The Caspian Sea is classified by geographers as a 'terminal lake' meaning that its water does not reach the ocean. Yet whilst this may imply that the Caspian Sea is a freshwater lake it nevertheless shows characteristics common to the world's oceans. As a 'terminal lake' the Caspian Sea's minerals build up in the water as it evaporates thereby increasing salinity. It is estimated that the Caspian Sea has a salinity of 1.2%, around a third of the oceans' salinity.

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In the 'Great Game' of the 19th century, global powers attempt to gain political control of a key region and therefore access to its resources and exploit its geographical position.

The expression was used particularly for what was in effect a confrontation between the Russian empire and the British Empire over the northern approaches to the Indian Raj – India, Pakistan, Afghanistan.

The Caspian Sea Basin (CSB) is currently an arena for geopolitical competition amongst a range of players from both inside and outside the region.

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Part 1 of a series about the Caspian Sea Basin

Held on 11th September, 2009, the Akatu summit was attended by Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan. According to Robert Cutler, writing in the Asian Times, it has proved difficult to determine what was actually on the agenda - there was a notable lack of official communiqués. However, it was anticipated that the summit would be an informal event to discuss sub-regional cooperation on a wide range of issues. These included the construction of a railway to Iran and the development of gas pipelines to China. The summit was not going to focus on the status of the Caspian Sea and the division of the seabed. These issues can only be discussed with the participation of all five Caspian littoral states. Yet despite the summit considering issues related to Iran, this country was not invited.

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