Russia is planning some ambitious additions to its Caspian Flotilla, its top naval commander has said. Via Xinhua:
Russia would deploy new coastal missiles and warships in the Caspian Sea, Chief Commander of the Russian Navy Vladimir Vysotsky said Wednesday.
In 2011, Russia's Caspian Fleet would receive two new missile boats and three landing ships, Vysotsky told a meeting of the Maritime Board held in Caspian town of Astrakhan, adding that the fleet would receive at least 16 new warships and missile boats by 2020.
Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov added that the current fleet is "uncompetitive":
"The fleet which is currently in service in the Caspian Sea could be characterized as outdated and uncompetitive," Ivanov, a former defense minister, said at a government meeting in the Caspian port city of Astrakhan.
He said most of its 148 ships were over 30 years old.
Although Russia recently announced plans to beef up its coastal defenses around the Caspian, it has thus far not said much about plans to add any ships to the fleet. So -- assuming this comes to pass -- it's a significant move.
It's worth recalling the words of a Russian representative to a Caspian Sea meeting, just last week, in Baku:
[Golovin] stressed that "all the littoral states agree that the Caspian should be a sea of peace and friendship." "And accordingly, none of the littoral states is going to start up the arms race, or compete in the military sphere with each other," Golovin said. This is not the field of activity on which the littoral states must spend their efforts, he said.
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.
News from Iran about its new military technology should always be taken with a large grain of salt, but nevertheless, this is interesting:
A senior Iranian Navy commander announced on Sunday that the country plans to launch a new home-made destroyer in the Caspian Sea which will enjoy more advanced naval equipment compared with Iran's first home-made destroyer Jamaran....
"The destroyer will be used in one of the combat units of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Navy in the Caspian Sea and will start its naval mission and operation in the lake in the near future," the commander announced.
(via Fars News Agency)
One confusing detail: the story goes on to say that the Jamaran will be deployed in the Persian Gulf and the new (and apparently unnamed) destroyer in the Caspian. But a few months ago Iran announced it was deploying a new destroyer in the Caspian; the logical conclusion was that that destroyer was a Jamaran-class vessel. But this new story doesn't mention that previous launch in the Caspian. Nor does it mention an announcement from August about new missile boats being sent to the Caspian, as well.
But whatever the case, at least rhetorically Iran is trying to assert its sovereignty in the Caspian. And coming just a week after the conclusion of the Caspian littoral summit, where regional leaders including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad vowed to cooperate on security matters in the sea, this seems to be sending the opposite message.
The presidents of Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan gather to talk the Caspian
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is on his way to the NATO summit in Lisbon, amid expectations that the meeting will mark a new era in NATO-Russia relations. But yesterday, at another summit -- in Baku, of the five nations surrounding the Caspian Sea -- he gave a Putinesque, thinly veiled warning about the West sticking its nose in that part of the world:
“If at any moment we relax in our mutual cooperation, there is no doubt that other states will want to interfere with our concerns — states that lack a know-how of or a relationship with the Caspian but whose interest stems from economic interests and political goals” he said.
It's not too hard to figure out what "other states" he might be talking about.
At the summit, the five countries signed a security cooperation agreement, the content of which does not seem to have been reported at all. But an Azerbaijani analyst says Russia's big concern is western military involvement in the Caspian:
Russia stands against any foreign naval forces in the Caspian Sea and is most concerned about NATO naval forces.
(And it probably goes without saying that Iran is even more against such a thing.)
But the overarching issue in the Caspian is how to delineate the waters -- and the oil and gas resources within -- between the five countries. And unsurprisingly, no apparent movement was made on that. The Moscow Times surveyed some analysts on the issue:
Security threats on the Caspian are usually discussed in a speculative fashion, like the possibility of terrorists attacking oil or gas infrastructure. But an analysis by a Russian think tank expert points out that there are currently some security issues in the Caspian, mainly piracy of fishing vessels:
One of the main problems of security providing remains poaching. Moreover, during recent years poachers began to put up armed resistance to officers of law-enforcement agencies and even attack them. According to the boundary department of the FSB of Kalmyk and Astrakhan region, in 2007-2008 there were 7 attacks of boundary cutters in this region. Thus, poachers carry out piracy. In addition, there were attacks of civil fishers and robbing of their catch and boats.
But the analyst, Sergey Mikheev, of the Institute for the Caspian Cooperation, points out one incident this summer in which an Iranian cargo vessel was threatened, apparently by pirates:
On July 8 at 2015 LT m/v Saman reported 4 suspicious crafts with 3-4 persons in each, approaching vessel under way in 44.12N 48.32E, northern Caspian sea off Russian coast, and demanding Saman to stop with apparent intention to board vessel. Crafts chased vessel for about 40 minutes and then went away. Master reported incident to Astrakhan MRCC, alert sent to all vessels in the area. Saman – IMO 9168166, dwt 6207, built 1997 Russia, flag Iran, owner Golden Sea Tehran.
As a solution, Mikheev calls for better security cooperation between the five Caspian littoral states. There will be a Caspian summit later this month, when that issue will be on the agenda.
Kazakhstan is planning to acquire an additional six "Huey" helicopters from the U.S. to augment the two it already has, Central Asia Newswire is reporting:
Kazakhstan’s military will be buying six retrofitted U.S. Huey helicopters for its Caspian Sea defense needs, giving it eight Hueys altogether for that effort, Central Asia Newswire (CAN) has learned.
The Hueys are part of Kazakhstan’s effort to build a naval and air presence in the Caspian, where the country is investing heavily in oil and gas development....
When it contracted for the work on the two Hueys in 2007, Kazakhstan took out an option with US Helicopter to retrofit six more Hueys. It apparently decided to exercise that option.
The article doesn't include any information on how Kazakhstan will pay for the helicopters; the first two were bought with U.S. military aid. There is also no word on what the Hueys (more precisely, UH-1H Iroquois) will be used for, but they are small and usually pretty lightly armed and are usually used for medical evacuation or light transport.
Kazakhstan also recently announced it will launch its first naval vessel in the Caspian in 2012 and Russia is set this month to launch the "Dagestan" frigate, which will apparently be the second-largest naval vessel in Russia's Caspian Fleet. The Caspian naval buildup is proceeding apace...
UPDATE: After this post went up, a representative for Central Asia Newswire contacted EurasiaNet, and asked that we post the following correction:
Iran's defense minister Ahmad Vahidi has completed a visit to Azerbaijan, and apparently mooted the idea of joint naval exercises between the two countries (and possibly other coastal states Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Russia). Azeri Press Agency reports:
Iran may hold military exercises together with Azerbaijan and other littoral states, Defense Minister of Iran, General Ahmad Vahidi said at the press conference on the outcomes of his visit to Azerbaijan, APA reports.
Iranian Minister said such exercises aim at maintaining peace and stability in the region.
There was no immediate response from any of the other countries about whether they would be amenable to that.
Vahidi did acknowledge that Iran has been building up its military capacity in the Caspian...:
To APA’s question whether Iran’s strengthening its military forces in the Caspian Sea with the new ships will influence the balance of forces in the region, Minister said it will not violate the stability in the Caspian region.
“Iran considers the Caspian Sea the sea of peace, security and friendship. We have got good relations with the littoral states and these steps have been agreed with all,” he said.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran considers the Caspian Sea as the sea of peace and friendship and believes that the sea should remain unmilitary."
At the same time, the deputy foreign ministers of the Caspian littoral states met in Baku and worked on a draft security strategy for the sea, in advance of a November summit (also to be held in Baku).
There is a lot of speculation surrounding Russia's future plans for its Black Sea Fleet, primarily because of its role in the 2008 war with Georgia. Comparatively little has been written about the Caspian Flotilla, but Dmitry Gorenburg helps rectify that. There isn't too much action, it appears:
[T]he first ship of the Gepard class [is] currently serving in the Caspian Flotilla. One more ship of this class is under construction and will likely enter the Caspian Flotilla next year. There are vague plans for further construction of these ships, though priority is being given to the export market...
Buyan class corvettes are smaller (500 tons) and designed to function on rivers or in shallow seas. They are primarily intended for the Caspian Flotilla and are armed with Igla surface-to-air missiles. The first ship of this class has been in the navy since 2006; two more are currently under construction, though the completion date is uncertain.
Nevertheless, even those modest plans appear likely to allow Russia to remain the dominant military power in the Caspian.
Iran has started production of two missile boats, at one of which will be deployed in the Caspian Sea, Iran's defense minister has announced.
IRAN kicked off mass production of two classes of high-speed missile-launching assault boats today, warning its enemies not to "play with fire" as it boosts security along its coastline...
State news agency IRNA reported that Seraj (Lamp) and Zolfaqar (named after Shi'ite Imam Ali's sword) speedboats would be manufactured at the marine industries complex of the ministry of defence.
Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi opened the assembly lines, saying the vessels would help strengthen Iran's defence forces, IRNA said.
"Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran is relying on a great defence industry and the powerful forces of Sepah (Revolutionary Guards) and the army, with their utmost strength, can provide security to the Persian Gulf, the Sea of Oman and Strait of Hormuz," Mr Vahidi said.
The Seraj would be deployed in the Caspian, but there aren't too many details available about what the boat actually is, and Iran is wont to exaggerate its military capabilities.
"Seraj is a fast moving assault rocket launcher using sophisticated and modern technology," Mr Vahidi was cited as saying by IRNA.
Vahidi says, as one does in these situations, that deploying this ship in the Caspian is purely defensive, but warns that "extraregional powers" (which could he be talking about?) are militarizing it:
Iran has announced that it is launching its first destroyer in the Caspian Sea. Although the reports have thus far not been very detailed, this would presumably be the newly developed Jamaran class of ship, which Iran first launched in the Persian Gulf earlier this year. That Iran would be deploying its new, advanced destroyer in the Caspian would seem to contradict Tehran's earlier pledges to not militarize the Caspian. For example, the commander of Iran's navy said this in 2007:
The commander further voiced opposition to the expansion of military capabilities in the Caspian Sea, saying, "We view the Caspian as a sea of peace and friendship and we believe upgrading and expanding military equipment in this sea is incorrect. Yet, we are always prepared to defend the country's interests."
What might Iran see as a threat in the Caspian? The U.S. is helping (to varying degrees) Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan build up their respective Caspian navies. And Russia's is still the most formidable navy in the sea. People who like to speculate on possible Caspian military conflicts usually point to Iran, specifically an incident in 2001 when an Iranian warship threatened an Azerbaijani oil research vessel.
This is especially interesting in light of a report by Jamestown from last week that suggests that Russia is moving in the other direction -- from opposing full demilitarization of the Caspian to supporting it: