Russian Military Beefing Up Forces Around the Caspian
Russia has been strengthening its Caspian Flotilla, adding anti-ship missile units on the southern part of its border, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports. It's another sign that the Caspian arms race is continuing:
Russia has significantly reinforced the army and navy forces on the Caspian coast in Dagestan. According to a Defense Ministry source, a separate coastal missile battalion was made part of the Caspian Flotilla in the city of Kaspiisk.
Additional positions for coastal missiles have been created on an elevation near the city of Izberbash, i.e., not far from Caspian Sea oil deposits and close to the border with Azerbaijan. Furthermore, all missile boats from the Caspian Flotilla were redeployed from Astrakhan to the Makhachkala and Kaspiisk area to create an integrated naval task force there.
(And yes, this article is more than two months old, but I only just came across it...) The unit in Izberbash will be equipped with Bal coastal defense missiles with a 130-km range, the paper says.
One expert the paper quotes, Georgy Kovalyov, deputy general director of the Russia's Institute for Cooperation in the Caspian, said Russia was responding to the other countries on the Caspian:
"In accordance with the Caspian countries' armament programs, by 2015, some of them will increase the number of warships. Nevertheless, right now, the number of warships is less than what it was during Soviet times. However, a trend toward militarization is evident. It's perfectly obvious that [Caspian] countries are arming themselves against one another in anticipation of some kind of future military threat. But exactly why this is being done remains unclear," the expert concluded.
(Translations via Current Digest of the Russian Press, subscription required)
I asked Russian military expert Dmitry Gorenburg for his take, and he agreed:
There's a general trend toward strengthening naval forces in the Caspian over the last year or so. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are both seeking to develop navies (though only Kazakhstan is likely to develop anything worth the name). Iran has recently deployed relatively powerful corvettes there. So I think this report is probably credible and in line with a policy of reinforcing the Caspian flotilla to deal with potentially stronger capabilities of the other states. Relations with Iran are somewhat strained now, and there's still the possibility (though remote) of conflict there as a result of maritime border disputes, though Russia is not directly involved in those at this point.
My sense is that Russian planners see Russia's southern borders as the least stable and most likely to generate conflict, so it makes sense to strengthen their forces in the region. In the Caspian specifically, they want to ensure that the flotilla remains the strongest naval force in the region.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.