Russia: May 13, 2002

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A Caspian Sea flotilla exercise is scheduled for 1-15 August, according to an unnamed high-ranking Russian Navy Staff official in a 13 May Interfax-Military News Agency report. The primary goal of the exercise will be to rehearse rescue at sea, methods of terrorism, illegal fishing, smuggling and drug trafficking prevention, as well as the protection of biological and energy resources. 

In April, President Vladimir Putin ordered the exercise in the northern and central parts of the sea in close-to-combat conditions, while stressing that security conditions be strictly followed. 

The exercise will involve units of the 4th Air Force and Air Defense army and the North Caucasus military district, as well as regional law enforcement agencies (including units of the Federal Border Guard Service, Emergencies Ministry and customs).

Putin noted that Russia should cooperate on key issues with other littoral countries, which is why he thought observers from all of the Caspian states should be invited to the exercise. An invitation to actually join the exercise will be sent to Azerbaijan. 

The oilfields under the Caspian offer significant wealth to all of the bordering countries, but the problem of how to divide it still lingers. But after April's summit in Turkmenistan failed to yield results, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the five Caspian Sea states to conclude bilateral agreements. The Caspian's legal status has been in limbo since the Soviet Union's 1991 collapse (when Moscow shared equal rights with Iran). Oil and gas exploration and explotation of the field was hobbled. 

Russia and Kazakhstan finally signed an agreement on the 13th, dividing the northern part of the resource-rich sea. Both nations consider the agreement a huge step toward defining ownership rights to the sea's oil and gas fields, believed to be the third largest in the world. So large is the potential reserve that even the Vietnam Oil and Gas Corporation (PetroVietnam) is considering investment in the region.

Neighboring Iran didn't sound particularly thrilled with any of these announcements. Referring to the Caspian Sea littoral countries' summit in Asgabat, Iranian MP Kazem Jalali warned against the militarization of that body of water. Iran's point of views the Caspian Sea as holding potential hope for "restoration of peace and stability in the region". Jalali noted that if the race for utilization of the oil resources of the Caspian Sea continues, the environment would be seriously harmed. - Adam Geibel

 

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