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Eastern Cinderella, a Broken Web and the Turkish Card, Part I

Wednesday, 02 January 2002 12:00 AM

In May 2001, the authors published the article

Indeed, in mid-June 2001, the presidents of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan signed an agreement formally establishing the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

SCO, according to its founders, is designed to combine economic, political, geopolitical and military functions. Some Western observers, from the very beginning, have drawn the conclusions that (a) we are dealing with an "Eastern NATO"; (b) SCO will soon involve Turkmenistan, Iran, Mongolia and possibly other neighboring states; and (c) the Western cause in this entire region is lost.

The authors focused their attention on China's accelerating invasion – under the SCO's beneficial environment – of all of Central Asia up to the Caspian Sea.

Indeed, by July 2001, after the SCO's founding and the signing in Moscow of the 20-year Chinese-Russian Good Neighborly Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, it seemed that Chinese domination in this strategic zone had become irreversible.

Specifically:

In addition, during 2000 and the first half of 2001, Russian President Vladimir Putin managed to effectively promote Moscow's causes even in the traditionally pro-U.S. Trans-Caucasian republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan.

And now, at the beginning of 2002, look how the situation has changed – mostly in September-December 2001.

The bad luck of the 9-11 attacks may be a blessing in disguise, since after these terrorist strikes the U.S. changed its approach toward the Trans-Caucasian republics and Central Asia from an overly cautious one to a very active one (in Moscow called "American aggression in the post-Soviet republics").

President Bush told leaders of Central Asia and the Trans-Caucasian zone: "You have to choose between America and the terrorists." They chose America.

And where is the Sino-Russian web stretching across these republics? It is broken, and its shreds are hanging helplessly. The most evident changes took place in Georgia and Azerbaijan, which provided air routes for U.S. military aircraft going to Central Asia and Afghanistan.

Moscow used to pressure Tbilisi (the Georgian capital) under the pretext of "Georgian indirect assistance to the Chechen rebels." Now, with the support of the U.S. and Turkey, Tbilisi is denying these claims, calling for the withdrawal of the remaining Russian forces from the republic and providing some of the former Soviet/Russian facilities (e.g., the military airfield near Tbilisi) for Turkish troop deployments.

Negotiations on establishment of a Turkish base in the republic of Azerbaijan, somewhere near its capital, Baku, are also under way.

Moscow's "patriotic media" (e.g., Nezavismaya gazeta, Dec. 4, 2001, and several issues of Pravda) have already cried out about the "emerging Tel Aviv-Ankara-Baku axis."

Moscow is especially angry over the supposed delivery of 100 Israeli Merkava tanks and 30 Israeli fighters to Azerbaijan. Earlier, Azerbaijan was afraid of the possible negative reaction of Arab countries, but the Baku scares are now fading.

This could be merely the first group of Israeli or Turkish weapons shipped to Baku, and the U.S. Congress has terminated the restrictions on U.S. military assistance to Azerbaijan.

Besides, Moscow Turkologists – foremost among them being ultra-nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky – know that the Turks of Turkey (sometimes called Anatolian Turks) and the Azerbaijani people (Caspian Turks, speaking Azeri) speak closely related languages. What are the chances for a Turkey-Azerbaijan federation?

Moscow, of course, is afraid of such a development, but no better argument in favor of such an occurrence is possible. And the new geopolitical shifts provide a reliable basis for constructing the oil pipeline from Baku to Ceihan (the latter on Turkey's Mediterranean coast), with Western aid. Caspian oil, both from Azerbaijan and Central Asia, thus eventually would get a freeway to the West.

A miraculous change – something like an Eastern version of the Cinderella story – has taken place in Kazakhstan: the "karakyz" (the girl for black work) has suddenly been transformed into the "khan-zade" (daughter of the mighty khan) and now requires a bridegroom from a much higher league.

In 1996-97 – i.e., during the most intensive contacts between Kazakhstani President Nazarbayev and Chinese President Jiang Zemin – it was supposed that, by 2020, Kazakhstan would produce and export 120 million tons of oil per year, with most of it going to China via the pipeline from Aktyubinsk (in central Kazakhstan) to Xinjiang.

However, due to new hydrocarbon discoveries on the Caspian Sea and Aral Sea shelves, as well as huge Western investment in local oil and gas in 1997-2001, it now appears that, as early as 2015, Kazakhstan will be capable of annually producing and exporting about 450 million tons of oil (and a significant amount of natural gas as well). Naturally, the Kazakhstanis are eager to transport most of this oil to the West and sell it at world market prices.

Until autumn 2001, landlocked Kazakhstan in effect had no export route choices other than China and Russia. However, by December 2001, the U.S. with the assistance of Turkey and other NATO allies – despite opposition from Moscow – established de facto control over the Trans-Caucasian corridor, formed by Georgia and Azerbaijan, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

And Kazakhstan, which in September offered its airspace to U.S. forces, considers this route a "window to the world."

On Dec. 10 in Washington, President Bush and President Nazarbayev signed a framework agreement on long-term cooperation in oil and gas. In particular, Kazakhstan will take part in construction of the Baku-Ceihan oil pipeline, which will transport Kazakhstani oil. Kazakhstan's dependence on Russian oil pipelines to the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk will thus dramatically fall. The same goes for Moscow's geopolitical influence in Kazakhstan.

And what about China, the "former bridegroom"? This country will get a certain quantity of Kazakhstani oil but won't have a monopoly on consumption of Kazakhstani oil.

Dr. Thomas J. Torda has been a Chinese linguist specializing in science and technology with FBIS, and a Chinese/Russian defense technology consultant with the Office of Naval Intelligence.

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In May 2001, the authors published the article Indeed, in mid-June 2001, the presidents of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan signed an agreement formally establishing the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). SCO, according to its...
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Wednesday, 02 January 2002 12:00 AM
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