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The Astrakhan Region in the system of Russian geopolitical priorities in the current international environment

21 August 2023

For several centuries, the Astrakhan Region has been the center of Russian presence in the Caspian zone. Starting from the end of the 20th century, after geopolitical transformations upon the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the role of Astrakhan in the Caspian policy of Russia has grown substantially.

Historical aspects of positioning Astrakhan as a Russian geopolitical outpost in the Caspian Region

Astrakhan was founded in 1558 as a wooden-and-earth fortress on the high Zayachiy or Dolgiy hill in the upper part of the Volga River estuary. In 1580, the erection of the Kremlin with towers was commenced to replace the wooden walls, then the caravansary appeared attracting numerous people from other regions. Large Russian, Armenian and Tatar commercial settlements were built.

From the 16th to the 18th century, Astrakhan becomes the window to Asia for Russia and for Europe. To a great extent, it was associated with the activities of Peter the Great, the Russian Emperor, who started the Persian campaign of 1722-1723 and paved the way for the geopolitical advancement of the Russian state to the South of the Caspian Region.

The local Cossack army was created in the region along with the navy, Admiralty, a shipyard, a port, and in the 19th century, upon the commencement of the development of the oilfields in Baku, Astrakhan became a major market for selling oil, and the Astrakhan port one of the biggest in Russia.

During the times of World War 2, Astrakhan became the important transit point for supplying petroleum products from Baku to the Army in the Field. After 1960s, a globally important industrial base was created for developing the Caspian shelf owned by the USSR.

As was emphasized by Sergey Lavrov, the Foreign Affairs Minister of the Russian Federation, in one of his recent speeches, the Astrakhan Region traditionally plays an important role in implementing the Russian political objectives in the Caspian Region. Over the recent years, the region has maintained its leading role among the RF constituent entities in developing international relations, first of all with its neighbors on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Hence, it was not incidentally that Astrakhan was selected as the venue for the Fourth Caspian Forum in 2014, which eventually became very productive and laid the foundation for finalizing the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea.

The RF Ministry of Foreign Affairs plans to establish the Caspian Council in Astrakhan, which could become a platform for regular meetings on various aspects of the Caspian cooperation, and not only in the context of preparation to the next summits of the heads of the Caspian states.

Economic strength of the Astrakhan Region

Despite its high political status in the current situation, Astrakhan gains high importance as a major economic center in the South of Russia. This is underpinned by the implementation of certain major investment projects in the region, by the development of logistics and oil-and-gas infrastructure.

The Astrakhan Region participated in the big effort of developing the transportation and logistics infrastructure of the North-South International Transportation Corridor (ITC), in which the region will become a very important transit center of commodity exchange.

The Caspian cluster development effort is also focused on this task; the cluster includes Special Economic Zone (SEZ) «Lotus» and Port SEZ in Olya, which in the forthcoming years is to become one of the growth drivers for the economy of the Astrakhan Region and Russia in general. The Caspian cluster is developed as the base for processing cargos transported along the North-South ITC. Its main objective is to improve the competitiveness of Russian ports on the Caspian Sea and to attract additional traffic flow to the countries of Middle East and South Asia.

Logistics centers are to be erected in the territory established by RF Government Resolution No. 1792 dated 7 November 2020 in Limansky District of the Astrakhan Region as the port special economic zone Olya. SEZ residents will be qualified for special privileges and preferences, they will be able to perform port operations, construction, renovation and operation of infrastructure facilities. Anchor investor was attracted to the port zone, this is Caspian Industrial and Logistics Complex (PLC), which will be implementing the project of building modern container terminal. Two berth of Olya port currently not in use will be renovated and fit with the required cargo handling equipment.

During the next project stage, terminals will be erected near Zaburunny Ilmen (a lake in the Volga River estuary). All this will eventually result in creation of a modern competitive port close to the Caspian Sea with the rated throughput of 8 mln tons by 2031. Private investment will make no less that RUB 16 bn with further growth in the course of the project development allowing for increasing the cargo turnover through the Astrakhan port SEZ up to 8 mln tons in 10 years.

As for the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) «Lotus», which was established several years ago, today it had 19 companies as its residents with the total announced investment exceeding RUB 40 bn, including investment from Iran, China and other countries. The residents are implementing the projects in manufacturing geosynthetics, fish nutrients, household chemicals, bioprotein, in building ships and manufacturing their spare parts. Some plants are already in operation, and the other are under construction including the first Iranian factory to produce detergents in the RF.

11 hydrocarbon feedstock deposits were on the books in the territory of the Astrakhan Region as of the beginning of 2022, plus 11 more in the territory of the Russian sector of the Caspian Sea bottom. The proven reserves of the Astrakhan Region make over 4.7 trillion cubic meters of gas and over 1 bn tons of condensate and oil. The recoverable reserves of the off-shore fields make over 570 bn cubic meters of gas and over 320 mln tons of condensate and oil. The region accounts for about 20% of the overall Russian reserves of condensate and 5% of natural gas.

Russian oil and gas company LUKOIL is active in the region in various spheres. Currently LUKOIL operates two oilfields in the Caspian Region Korchagin field and Filanovskoye field. Starting from bringing the oilfields on stream over 47.5 mln tons of crude oil were produced. The first ice-resistant stationary platform and the living quarter platform were installed at the Grayfer oilfield.

Gazprom Dobycha Astrakhan LLC is implementing the project to expand gas production and processing. PJSC Gazprom decided to ramp-up the annual production output at the Astrakhan arch deposits, hence, Gazprom Dobycha Astrakhan LLC continues the design and survey works for additional gas-gathering station installation with processing facilities, communication and utility lines and additional development wells stock. The Astrakhan Gas Processing Plant (GPP) of Gazprom Dobycha Astrakhan LLC also performs the design and survey works to prepare for the long-term investment projects focused on improving the Astrakhan GPP performance. The joint project of the Caspian Innovation Company (CIC) and Gazprom to build the gas-chemical complex (GCC) in the Astrakhan Region is at the stage of preparation for implementation; the project objective is to process ethane into polymer products.

The shipbuilding industry has always been important for the economy of the Astrakhan Region and the South of Russia in general.

Astrakhan ship builders are involved in building ice-resistant stationary platforms to develop Korchagin and Filanovskoye oilfields and other fields as well. The building of Peter the Great cruise ship is at the completion stage. On top of that, tankers, bulk carriers, special-purpose vessels and dredgers are being built in the region. This sector account for more than 4 thou of jobs. The regional companies have sufficient production capacities, skilled and experienced workforce and the expertise required for performing various orders. The Astrakhan Regional Government is persistently working on attracting customers for the shipyards. The agreement was achieved recently about building a number of container carriers for the North-South ITC.

International ties of the Astrakhan Region with the Caspian countries

The Astrakhan Region is actively developing the cooperation with the partners from Caspian counties.

The Republic of Azerbaijan has traditionally has been one of the key partners of Astrakhan in the Caspian Region. Trade and economic relations along with humanitarian ties have been developing between them during many years, and their legal framework is based on the Agreement of Trade, Economic, Research, Engineering and Cultural Cooperation between the governments of the Astrakhan Region and the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Starting from 2010, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation has implemented a series of meaningful social and cultural projects in Astrakhan. The monument of friendship between Astrakhan and Baku was erected in the capital of Azerbaijan as a present from the Astrakhan Region. Starting from 2018, the Azerbaijanian Business Center is operating in Astrakhan, and in 2021, the Astrakhan Business Center was open in Baku. As of today, this Center is the only representative office of any Russian region in Azerbaijan.

Agreement was achieved with partners from Turkmenistan about creatin a logistics center in Astrakhan, discussions are underway about opening a regular shipping line Olya Turkmenbashi. There is a good outlook for cooperation with the Balkan plant in the Turkmenbashi port. In 2022, the cooperation agreement was signed with the local government of Balkan province.

Astrakhan is actively cooperating with the boundary regions of Kazakhstan. The discussions are underway about opening the Cross-Border Trade Center to ramp-up mutual cross-border trade. In addition, Astrakhan is building dredgers and repairing ships for Kazakhstan. Astrakhan has sister-city relations with Kazakh cities Aktau and Atyrau; in 2022, the Astrakhan Regional Duma (parliament) and the Mangistau Regional maslikhat signed the cooperation agreement.

Interaction was established with the Mostazafan Foundation, the second biggest business association in Iran following the National Iran Oil Company.

On 1 June 2022, the delegation representing this Foundation arrived to the Astrakhan Region headed by Parviz Fattah, the chairperson of the Foundation. It included top managers of the Foundation, chairs of the holdings members of the association. It was a return visit after the meeting of Igor Babushkin, the Governor of the Astrakhan Region, and Parviz Fattah, which took place in Teheran in July 2021.

During their 3-day stay in Astrakhan, the members of the Mostazafan Foundation delegation learned about the social and economic capacities of the Astrakhan Region, visited industrial and agricultural companies. They also had a meeting with Iranian business representatives making business in the territory of the region and visited the Astrakhan branch of the Iranian Mir Business Bank.

During his visit, Parviz Fattah informed that the Mostazafan Foundation was planning to open its permanent office in Astrakhan. At the end of the visit, the ceremony of signing the Program of Cooperation between the Astrakhan Regional Government and the Mostazafan Foundation for 2022-2026 took place. This is a comprehensive document stipulating for the joint activities in a series of areas including the development of cargo traffic between Iran and Russia using the transit capacities of the Astrakhan Region, collaboration in shipbuilding and ship  repairing, etc.

The issues of ramping up the collaboration with Teheran also were discussed during the visit of official delegation of the Islamic of Republic of Iran headed by  Kazem Jalali, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Iran to the Russian Federation, to the Astrakhan Region in September 2021. The Iranian Ambassador familiarized himself with the economic, educational and cultural potential of the region and held a series of business negotiations.

Within this official visit, at the meeting with Igor Babushkin, the Governor of the Astrakhan Region, the participation of Iranian companies in the Caspian cluster and the North-South ITC development was discussed. The Parties also reviewed the issues of opening direct flights between Astrakhan and Iran. On top of that, there was a talk about restoration of the Persian compound and the Persian mosque in the regional center  both of them are heritage-listed buildings and need restoration.

Speaking about the potential of transportation, logistics and trade cooperation, Kazem Jalali emphasized that «Astrakhan is in the heart of communications in the Caspian Region» offered assistance in organizing the interaction between the Astrakhan Region and Iranian provinces.

Another important aspect of the IRI Ambassadors visit was the meeting  with the leadership and students of the Astrakhan State University (ASU), which closely collaborates with many Iranian universities. The issues of such cooperation, student exchange projects and joint research activities discussed. The ASU rector emphasized the importance of such relations between the educational institutions and research centers of Iran and Russia, because they bring value to the entire Caspian Region. In his turn, Kazem Jalali called the initiative of collaboration between the universities of Iran and Astrakhan a very interesting one.

This year, in the period 1-11 April, the cross-country motorcycle race supported by the federal authorities was organized contributing to strengthening multi-fold ties between the Astrakhan Region and other Caspian regions. This motor race was called «The Caspian Sea is the Sea of Friendship», and Governor Babushkin personally headed it. Negotiations of the Astrakhan delegation with the Caspian neighbors took place within this motor race. The distance covered in 11 days was 4,915 km, the race started in Kazakhstan and then the territories of Turkmenistan, Iran and Azerbaijan. One of the outcomes was achieving mutual agreement of the Caspian states to establish the association of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) of all the countries included into the North-South International Transportation Corridor (ITC).

International humanitarian projects of the Astrakhan Region

Astrakhan is traditionally developing international ties in the sphere of education and culture.

In 2022, according to the Regional Ministry of External Relations, 5,334 foreign students received training in the educational institutions of the region. The number of students from Azerbaijan, Iran, India and some other countries grew over the recent years. Last year, about 11 thousand of foreign citizens received medical treatment in the regional healthcare institutions.

Astrakhan has turned into a traditional venue for such international events as Caspian Media Forum, Caspian Scientific Forum, Caspian Medical Forum, International Youth Forum SELIAS and others. Vladimir Golovkov, the Regional Minister of External Relations, noted that the regional authorities planned to continue using these platforms for developing positive international agenda in the Caspian Region and positioning Astrakhan as the strategically important Russian entity in this area.

Astrakhan India

International ties of the Astrakhan Region are not limited to just Caspian countries. On 27 April 2023, Pavan Kapur, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of India, made an important visit to the Astrakhan Region. New Delhi is not just randomly interested in Astrakhan, because this city has always been the traditional commercial venue for Indian merchants, who used to have their own compound here.

The objective of this visit by the Indian Ambassador and the accompanying business-mission was the acquaintance with the economic capacity of the Astrakhan Region and discussing the potential areas of mutually beneficial cooperation.

The international conference «The Astrakhan Region the Republic of India: New Horizons for Business Partnerships» dedicated to developing the cooperation between Astrakhan and Indian business communities in trade and logistics took place within this official visit. Representatives of the authorities, trade, logistics and transportation companies from Russia and India participated in the conference.

Speaking at the forum, Pavan Kapur noted, that as of the end of 2022, the Russian-Indian commercial turnover made USD 45 bn and achieved the historic maximum. Speaking about the future outlook, the Indian Ambassador emphasized that Indian business was ready to offer food products, medications, chemicals and many other commodities to Russian consumers. The Indian Party is interested in placing manufacturing sites in Lotus SEZ in Astrakhan.

Various aspects of partnership between Astrakhan and Indian companies were discussed in detail at the round-table sessions dedicated to logistics and trade. The key topic for the round table with participation of the representatives of government and logistics companies from the Astrakhan Region and India was the potential for increasing the cargo turnover in the North-South corridor. Agricultural products supplies represent the priority both for India and Russia. In this relation, India is interested in setting up the logistical hub in Astrakhan with the warehouses for storing food products, where the representatives of different supervisory agencies could be concentrated.

One of the very important events during the visit of the Indian delegation was the meeting of Igor Babushkin, the Astrakhan Region Governor, with Pavan Kapur. The head of the region emphasized that the development of the North-South ITC was one of the main aspects of cooperation with India. The Governor recommended to the Indian companies to explore the possibility of investing into the development of the port SEZ infrastructure and offered to the Indian business people to become residents of Lotus SEZ and to open manufacturing sites there. At the meeting, the Parties discussed the outlook for cooperation in shipbuilding.

In his turn, Pavan Kapur noted the historical connections between India and the Astrakhan Region. He reminded that in 2006, being the Minister of the Gujarat state, the incumbent Prime-Minister of India Narendra Modi came to the Astrakhan Region with a working visit. The diplomat also emphasized that the intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in shipbuilding and ship repairing is currently being discussed at the level of Indian and Russia governments.

«I believe that the Astrakhan Region may play a significant role in the context of this agreement», Pavan Kapur emphasized.

Military and political significance of the Astrakhan Region

Starting from early 1990s, Astrakhan became the ship base for the Caspian fleet of the Russian Navy, however, the biggest part of it left for the new base at the Caspian shore of Dagestan, but the Astrakhan Region maintained its military and political significance.

Currently, a series of major military centers and training grounds are operating in the region, where the latest sample of Russian arms and military machinery are being tested.

Thus, the tests of the latest air defense missile system of the 5th generation S-500 were held in Kapustin Yar, the training grounds of the RF Defense Ministry. This system has no analogues in the world and is designed for destruction of the entire range of the existing and potential aerospace assault weapons of the potential adversary across the entire spectrum of heights and speeds.

The State flight test center named after V.P. Chkalov in the Ahtyba district of the Astrakhan Region tested and validated the planes Su-30, Su-34, MiG-35, Yak-130, Il-76MD-90A, copters Mi-28, Ka-50, Ka-52 and some other modifications of aviation equipment. It was also the venue for government acceptance testing of the multirole fighter aircraft Su-35S of the 4++ generation, as well as testing of the high-potential aircraft system of the 5th generation Su-57.

The military training center Ashuluk operates in Kharabali district hosting regular ani-air-warfare exercises of the Aerospace Forces of Russia and CIS countries.

Astrakhan often is a venue for discussing the important issues of regional security, and this is another evidence of military and political significance of the region.

The representatives of the General Prosecutors Offices from Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan got together in Astrakhan on 28 July 2022 to discuss counteracting law offences committed in the Caspian Sea water zone including crimes against the environment and in the sphere of using natural resources. The event took place in the context of the Caspian States General Prosecutors Declaration signed in 2021 in Saint Petersburg, where the areas of cooperation in the sphere of environment management and use of Caspian natural resources were defined. In the light of this, the participants of the Astrakhan event discussed the specific areas of implementing the Declaration.

On 27 April 2022, Nikolay Patrushev, the Secretary of the RF Security Council chaired the meeting on national security assurance in the South of Russia, which was held in Astrakhan. Vladimir Ustinov, the Plenipotentiary Representative of the RF President for the Southern Federal District, the heads of various regions, representatives of federal ministries and agencies took part in the meeting.

The situation in the region is in the focus of the top political leadership of the country. On 30 April 2021, Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation, held a meeting with the permanent members of the Security Council (in the videoconference mode) dedicated to the situation in the Caspian Region, which the head of the state called an extremely important topic for the national interests of Russia. In his welcome speech Vladimir Putin emphasized the significance of the region for Russia associated with the economic aspects, interaction with the closest partners and allies, assurance of security and national interests across the Caspian Region in general.

Astrakhan as a priority geo-strategic territory of the RF

The federal center totally supports the efforts of the Astrakhan Regional Government in regional development. It is known that currently the RF Government is looking at introducing the amendments into the Spatial Development Strategy of the Russian Federation for the period until 2025 to attribute the Astrakhan Region as the priority geo-strategic territories significant for assuring sustainable social and economic development, territorial integrity and security of the RF.

On 18 May 2021, the issue of the Astrakhan Region development as priority geo-strategic territory was reviewed by the Economic Policy Committee of the Federation Council chaired by A. Kutepov with participation of I. Babushkin, the Governor of the Astrakhan Region, representatives of the federal state power bodies and the state power bodies of the Astrakhan Region.

Therefore, in the context of todays international situation, the Astrakhan Region becomes extremely important as a geopolitical center of our country in the Caspian Region. Just like in the past centuries, Astrakhan serves the key point for the geopolitical turn from the West to the East implemented by the RF leaders and becomes «the window» to such significant global regions as the Middle East, Central and Southern Asia.

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The Astrakhan Region in the system of Russian geopolitical priorities in the current international environment

21 2023

For several centuries, the Astrakhan Region has been the center of Russian presence in the Caspian zone. Starting from the end of the 20th century, after geopolitical transformations upon the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the role of Astrakhan in the Caspian policy of Russia has grown substantially.

Historical aspects of positioning Astrakhan as a Russian geopolitical outpost in the Caspian Region

Astrakhan was founded in 1558 as a wooden-and-earth fortress on the high Zayachiy or Dolgiy hill in the upper part of the Volga River estuary. In 1580, the erection of the Kremlin with towers was commenced to replace the wooden walls, then the caravansary appeared attracting numerous people from other regions. Large Russian, Armenian and Tatar commercial settlements were built.

From the 16th to the 18th century, Astrakhan becomes the window to Asia for Russia and for Europe. To a great extent, it was associated with the activities of Peter the Great, the Russian Emperor, who started the Persian campaign of 1722-1723 and paved the way for the geopolitical advancement of the Russian state to the South of the Caspian Region.

The local Cossack army was created in the region along with the navy, Admiralty, a shipyard, a port, and in the 19th century, upon the commencement of the development of the oilfields in Baku, Astrakhan became a major market for selling oil, and the Astrakhan port one of the biggest in Russia.

During the times of World War 2, Astrakhan became the important transit point for supplying petroleum products from Baku to the Army in the Field. After 1960s, a globally important industrial base was created for developing the Caspian shelf owned by the USSR.

As was emphasized by Sergey Lavrov, the Foreign Affairs Minister of the Russian Federation, in one of his recent speeches, the Astrakhan Region traditionally plays an important role in implementing the Russian political objectives in the Caspian Region. Over the recent years, the region has maintained its leading role among the RF constituent entities in developing international relations, first of all with its neighbors on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Hence, it was not incidentally that Astrakhan was selected as the venue for the Fourth Caspian Forum in 2014, which eventually became very productive and laid the foundation for finalizing the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea.

The RF Ministry of Foreign Affairs plans to establish the Caspian Council in Astrakhan, which could become a platform for regular meetings on various aspects of the Caspian cooperation, and not only in the context of preparation to the next summits of the heads of the Caspian states.

Economic strength of the Astrakhan Region

Despite its high political status in the current situation, Astrakhan gains high importance as a major economic center in the South of Russia. This is underpinned by the implementation of certain major investment projects in the region, by the development of logistics and oil-and-gas infrastructure.

The Astrakhan Region participated in the big effort of developing the transportation and logistics infrastructure of the North-South International Transportation Corridor (ITC), in which the region will become a very important transit center of commodity exchange.

The Caspian cluster development effort is also focused on this task; the cluster includes Special Economic Zone (SEZ) «Lotus» and Port SEZ in Olya, which in the forthcoming years is to become one of the growth drivers for the economy of the Astrakhan Region and Russia in general. The Caspian cluster is developed as the base for processing cargos transported along the North-South ITC. Its main objective is to improve the competitiveness of Russian ports on the Caspian Sea and to attract additional traffic flow to the countries of Middle East and South Asia.

Logistics centers are to be erected in the territory established by RF Government Resolution No. 1792 dated 7 November 2020 in Limansky District of the Astrakhan Region as the port special economic zone Olya. SEZ residents will be qualified for special privileges and preferences, they will be able to perform port operations, construction, renovation and operation of infrastructure facilities. Anchor investor was attracted to the port zone, this is Caspian Industrial and Logistics Complex (PLC), which will be implementing the project of building modern container terminal. Two berth of Olya port currently not in use will be renovated and fit with the required cargo handling equipment.

During the next project stage, terminals will be erected near Zaburunny Ilmen (a lake in the Volga River estuary). All this will eventually result in creation of a modern competitive port close to the Caspian Sea with the rated throughput of 8 mln tons by 2031. Private investment will make no less that RUB 16 bn with further growth in the course of the project development allowing for increasing the cargo turnover through the Astrakhan port SEZ up to 8 mln tons in 10 years.

As for the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) «Lotus», which was established several years ago, today it had 19 companies as its residents with the total announced investment exceeding RUB 40 bn, including investment from Iran, China and other countries. The residents are implementing the projects in manufacturing geosynthetics, fish nutrients, household chemicals, bioprotein, in building ships and manufacturing their spare parts. Some plants are already in operation, and the other are under construction including the first Iranian factory to produce detergents in the RF.

11 hydrocarbon feedstock deposits were on the books in the territory of the Astrakhan Region as of the beginning of 2022, plus 11 more in the territory of the Russian sector of the Caspian Sea bottom. The proven reserves of the Astrakhan Region make over 4.7 trillion cubic meters of gas and over 1 bn tons of condensate and oil. The recoverable reserves of the off-shore fields make over 570 bn cubic meters of gas and over 320 mln tons of condensate and oil. The region accounts for about 20% of the overall Russian reserves of condensate and 5% of natural gas.

Russian oil and gas company LUKOIL is active in the region in various spheres. Currently LUKOIL operates two oilfields in the Caspian Region Korchagin field and Filanovskoye field. Starting from bringing the oilfields on stream over 47.5 mln tons of crude oil were produced. The first ice-resistant stationary platform and the living quarter platform were installed at the Grayfer oilfield.

Gazprom Dobycha Astrakhan LLC is implementing the project to expand gas production and processing. PJSC Gazprom decided to ramp-up the annual production output at the Astrakhan arch deposits, hence, Gazprom Dobycha Astrakhan LLC continues the design and survey works for additional gas-gathering station installation with processing facilities, communication and utility lines and additional development wells stock. The Astrakhan Gas Processing Plant (GPP) of Gazprom Dobycha Astrakhan LLC also performs the design and survey works to prepare for the long-term investment projects focused on improving the Astrakhan GPP performance. The joint project of the Caspian Innovation Company (CIC) and Gazprom to build the gas-chemical complex (GCC) in the Astrakhan Region is at the stage of preparation for implementation; the project objective is to process ethane into polymer products.

The shipbuilding industry has always been important for the economy of the Astrakhan Region and the South of Russia in general.

Astrakhan ship builders are involved in building ice-resistant stationary platforms to develop Korchagin and Filanovskoye oilfields and other fields as well. The building of Peter the Great cruise ship is at the completion stage. On top of that, tankers, bulk carriers, special-purpose vessels and dredgers are being built in the region. This sector account for more than 4 thou of jobs. The regional companies have sufficient production capacities, skilled and experienced workforce and the expertise required for performing various orders. The Astrakhan Regional Government is persistently working on attracting customers for the shipyards. The agreement was achieved recently about building a number of container carriers for the North-South ITC.

International ties of the Astrakhan Region with the Caspian countries

The Astrakhan Region is actively developing the cooperation with the partners from Caspian counties.

The Republic of Azerbaijan has traditionally has been one of the key partners of Astrakhan in the Caspian Region. Trade and economic relations along with humanitarian ties have been developing between them during many years, and their legal framework is based on the Agreement of Trade, Economic, Research, Engineering and Cultural Cooperation between the governments of the Astrakhan Region and the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Starting from 2010, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation has implemented a series of meaningful social and cultural projects in Astrakhan. The monument of friendship between Astrakhan and Baku was erected in the capital of Azerbaijan as a present from the Astrakhan Region. Starting from 2018, the Azerbaijanian Business Center is operating in Astrakhan, and in 2021, the Astrakhan Business Center was open in Baku. As of today, this Center is the only representative office of any Russian region in Azerbaijan.

Agreement was achieved with partners from Turkmenistan about creatin a logistics center in Astrakhan, discussions are underway about opening a regular shipping line Olya Turkmenbashi. There is a good outlook for cooperation with the Balkan plant in the Turkmenbashi port. In 2022, the cooperation agreement was signed with the local government of Balkan province.

Astrakhan is actively cooperating with the boundary regions of Kazakhstan. The discussions are underway about opening the Cross-Border Trade Center to ramp-up mutual cross-border trade. In addition, Astrakhan is building dredgers and repairing ships for Kazakhstan. Astrakhan has sister-city relations with Kazakh cities Aktau and Atyrau; in 2022, the Astrakhan Regional Duma (parliament) and the Mangistau Regional maslikhat signed the cooperation agreement.

Interaction was established with the Mostazafan Foundation, the second biggest business association in Iran following the National Iran Oil Company.

On 1 June 2022, the delegation representing this Foundation arrived to the Astrakhan Region headed by Parviz Fattah, the chairperson of the Foundation. It included top managers of the Foundation, chairs of the holdings members of the association. It was a return visit after the meeting of Igor Babushkin, the Governor of the Astrakhan Region, and Parviz Fattah, which took place in Teheran in July 2021.

During their 3-day stay in Astrakhan, the members of the Mostazafan Foundation delegation learned about the social and economic capacities of the Astrakhan Region, visited industrial and agricultural companies. They also had a meeting with Iranian business representatives making business in the territory of the region and visited the Astrakhan branch of the Iranian Mir Business Bank.

During his visit, Parviz Fattah informed that the Mostazafan Foundation was planning to open its permanent office in Astrakhan. At the end of the visit, the ceremony of signing the Program of Cooperation between the Astrakhan Regional Government and the Mostazafan Foundation for 2022-2026 took place. This is a comprehensive document stipulating for the joint activities in a series of areas including the development of cargo traffic between Iran and Russia using the transit capacities of the Astrakhan Region, collaboration in shipbuilding and ship  repairing, etc.

The issues of ramping up the collaboration with Teheran also were discussed during the visit of official delegation of the Islamic of Republic of Iran headed by  Kazem Jalali, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Iran to the Russian Federation, to the Astrakhan Region in September 2021. The Iranian Ambassador familiarized himself with the economic, educational and cultural potential of the region and held a series of business negotiations.

Within this official visit, at the meeting with Igor Babushkin, the Governor of the Astrakhan Region, the participation of Iranian companies in the Caspian cluster and the North-South ITC development was discussed. The Parties also reviewed the issues of opening direct flights between Astrakhan and Iran. On top of that, there was a talk about restoration of the Persian compound and the Persian mosque in the regional center  both of them are heritage-listed buildings and need restoration.

Speaking about the potential of transportation, logistics and trade cooperation, Kazem Jalali emphasized that «Astrakhan is in the heart of communications in the Caspian Region» offered assistance in organizing the interaction between the Astrakhan Region and Iranian provinces.

Another important aspect of the IRI Ambassadors visit was the meeting  with the leadership and students of the Astrakhan State University (ASU), which closely collaborates with many Iranian universities. The issues of such cooperation, student exchange projects and joint research activities discussed. The ASU rector emphasized the importance of such relations between the educational institutions and research centers of Iran and Russia, because they bring value to the entire Caspian Region. In his turn, Kazem Jalali called the initiative of collaboration between the universities of Iran and Astrakhan a very interesting one.

This year, in the period 1-11 April, the cross-country motorcycle race supported by the federal authorities was organized contributing to strengthening multi-fold ties between the Astrakhan Region and other Caspian regions. This motor race was called «The Caspian Sea is the Sea of Friendship», and Governor Babushkin personally headed it. Negotiations of the Astrakhan delegation with the Caspian neighbors took place within this motor race. The distance covered in 11 days was 4,915 km, the race started in Kazakhstan and then the territories of Turkmenistan, Iran and Azerbaijan. One of the outcomes was achieving mutual agreement of the Caspian states to establish the association of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) of all the countries included into the North-South International Transportation Corridor (ITC).

International humanitarian projects of the Astrakhan Region

Astrakhan is traditionally developing international ties in the sphere of education and culture.

In 2022, according to the Regional Ministry of External Relations, 5,334 foreign students received training in the educational institutions of the region. The number of students from Azerbaijan, Iran, India and some other countries grew over the recent years. Last year, about 11 thousand of foreign citizens received medical treatment in the regional healthcare institutions.

Astrakhan has turned into a traditional venue for such international events as Caspian Media Forum, Caspian Scientific Forum, Caspian Medical Forum, International Youth Forum SELIAS and others. Vladimir Golovkov, the Regional Minister of External Relations, noted that the regional authorities planned to continue using these platforms for developing positive international agenda in the Caspian Region and positioning Astrakhan as the strategically important Russian entity in this area.

Astrakhan India

International ties of the Astrakhan Region are not limited to just Caspian countries. On 27 April 2023, Pavan Kapur, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of India, made an important visit to the Astrakhan Region. New Delhi is not just randomly interested in Astrakhan, because this city has always been the traditional commercial venue for Indian merchants, who used to have their own compound here.

The objective of this visit by the Indian Ambassador and the accompanying business-mission was the acquaintance with the economic capacity of the Astrakhan Region and discussing the potential areas of mutually beneficial cooperation.

The international conference «The Astrakhan Region the Republic of India: New Horizons for Business Partnerships» dedicated to developing the cooperation between Astrakhan and Indian business communities in trade and logistics took place within this official visit. Representatives of the authorities, trade, logistics and transportation companies from Russia and India participated in the conference.

Speaking at the forum, Pavan Kapur noted, that as of the end of 2022, the Russian-Indian commercial turnover made USD 45 bn and achieved the historic maximum. Speaking about the future outlook, the Indian Ambassador emphasized that Indian business was ready to offer food products, medications, chemicals and many other commodities to Russian consumers. The Indian Party is interested in placing manufacturing sites in Lotus SEZ in Astrakhan.

Various aspects of partnership between Astrakhan and Indian companies were discussed in detail at the round-table sessions dedicated to logistics and trade. The key topic for the round table with participation of the representatives of government and logistics companies from the Astrakhan Region and India was the potential for increasing the cargo turnover in the North-South corridor. Agricultural products supplies represent the priority both for India and Russia. In this relation, India is interested in setting up the logistical hub in Astrakhan with the warehouses for storing food products, where the representatives of different supervisory agencies could be concentrated.

One of the very important events during the visit of the Indian delegation was the meeting of Igor Babushkin, the Astrakhan Region Governor, with Pavan Kapur. The head of the region emphasized that the development of the North-South ITC was one of the main aspects of cooperation with India. The Governor recommended to the Indian companies to explore the possibility of investing into the development of the port SEZ infrastructure and offered to the Indian business people to become residents of Lotus SEZ and to open manufacturing sites there. At the meeting, the Parties discussed the outlook for cooperation in shipbuilding.

In his turn, Pavan Kapur noted the historical connections between India and the Astrakhan Region. He reminded that in 2006, being the Minister of the Gujarat state, the incumbent Prime-Minister of India Narendra Modi came to the Astrakhan Region with a working visit. The diplomat also emphasized that the intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in shipbuilding and ship repairing is currently being discussed at the level of Indian and Russia governments.

«I believe that the Astrakhan Region may play a significant role in the context of this agreement», Pavan Kapur emphasized.

Military and political significance of the Astrakhan Region

Starting from early 1990s, Astrakhan became the ship base for the Caspian fleet of the Russian Navy, however, the biggest part of it left for the new base at the Caspian shore of Dagestan, but the Astrakhan Region maintained its military and political significance.

Currently, a series of major military centers and training grounds are operating in the region, where the latest sample of Russian arms and military machinery are being tested.

Thus, the tests of the latest air defense missile system of the 5th generation S-500 were held in Kapustin Yar, the training grounds of the RF Defense Ministry. This system has no analogues in the world and is designed for destruction of the entire range of the existing and potential aerospace assault weapons of the potential adversary across the entire spectrum of heights and speeds.

The State flight test center named after V.P. Chkalov in the Ahtyba district of the Astrakhan Region tested and validated the planes Su-30, Su-34, MiG-35, Yak-130, Il-76MD-90A, copters Mi-28, Ka-50, Ka-52 and some other modifications of aviation equipment. It was also the venue for government acceptance testing of the multirole fighter aircraft Su-35S of the 4++ generation, as well as testing of the high-potential aircraft system of the 5th generation Su-57.

The military training center Ashuluk operates in Kharabali district hosting regular ani-air-warfare exercises of the Aerospace Forces of Russia and CIS countries.

Astrakhan often is a venue for discussing the important issues of regional security, and this is another evidence of military and political significance of the region.

The representatives of the General Prosecutors Offices from Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan got together in Astrakhan on 28 July 2022 to discuss counteracting law offences committed in the Caspian Sea water zone including crimes against the environment and in the sphere of using natural resources. The event took place in the context of the Caspian States General Prosecutors Declaration signed in 2021 in Saint Petersburg, where the areas of cooperation in the sphere of environment management and use of Caspian natural resources were defined. In the light of this, the participants of the Astrakhan event discussed the specific areas of implementing the Declaration.

On 27 April 2022, Nikolay Patrushev, the Secretary of the RF Security Council chaired the meeting on national security assurance in the South of Russia, which was held in Astrakhan. Vladimir Ustinov, the Plenipotentiary Representative of the RF President for the Southern Federal District, the heads of various regions, representatives of federal ministries and agencies took part in the meeting.

The situation in the region is in the focus of the top political leadership of the country. On 30 April 2021, Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation, held a meeting with the permanent members of the Security Council (in the videoconference mode) dedicated to the situation in the Caspian Region, which the head of the state called an extremely important topic for the national interests of Russia. In his welcome speech Vladimir Putin emphasized the significance of the region for Russia associated with the economic aspects, interaction with the closest partners and allies, assurance of security and national interests across the Caspian Region in general.

Astrakhan as a priority geo-strategic territory of the RF

The federal center totally supports the efforts of the Astrakhan Regional Government in regional development. It is known that currently the RF Government is looking at introducing the amendments into the Spatial Development Strategy of the Russian Federation for the period until 2025 to attribute the Astrakhan Region as the priority geo-strategic territories significant for assuring sustainable social and economic development, territorial integrity and security of the RF.

On 18 May 2021, the issue of the Astrakhan Region development as priority geo-strategic territory was reviewed by the Economic Policy Committee of the Federation Council chaired by A. Kutepov with participation of I. Babushkin, the Governor of the Astrakhan Region, representatives of the federal state power bodies and the state power bodies of the Astrakhan Region.

Therefore, in the context of todays international situation, the Astrakhan Region becomes extremely important as a geopolitical center of our country in the Caspian Region. Just like in the past centuries, Astrakhan serves the key point for the geopolitical turn from the West to the East implemented by the RF leaders and becomes «the window» to such significant global regions as the Middle East, Central and Southern Asia.