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Sergey Lavrovs visit to Baku against the background of the competing strategic Caspian-related projects of the leading global powers

25 June 2022

On June 23-24, Sergey Lavrov, the Head of the RF Ministry of Foreign Affairs, paid an official visit to Baku. From the very beginning, Russia considered that visit extremely important for several reasons. Firstly, that was the first top-level contact between Moscow and Baku since the Presidents Vladimir Putin and Ilham Aliyev signed the historic Alliance Declaration in February 2022. Secondly, in the context of the confrontation build-up between Russia and the West, the Caspian region becomes the transportation and energy hub of great importance. Thirdly, the leading global powers today are competing with their strategic projects around the Caspian Sea.

Political enforcement of Armenia to discharge its obligations

The main item on the agenda of negotiations held in Baku was associated with the problems in implementing the trilateral Declaration of the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia dated 10 November 2020 and the follow-up top-level agreements. The official position of the RF Ministry of Foreign Affairs is as follows: Baku is the strategic partner of Moscow in the South Caucasus and in the Caspian region. One of the key areas of Russian efforts here is de-blocking transportation communications in the region. One of the key foreign policy priorities for Russia is to facilitate the normalization of the relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. [1] In the beginning of June, Sergey Lavrov visited Yerevan to discuss similar issues of bilateral relations normalization.

Even though formally Yerevan declared many times its commitment to the achieved agreements on settling the conflict and normalizing the relations with Baku, in reality no practical steps were made by Armenia during the past 18 months, except for declarations and undisguised political demagoguery. The Armenian side either bluntly hampers the implementation of the agreements, or acts under the principle «one step forward, two steps backwards». In addition to the permanent focus on the status of unlawful separatist regime in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, Yerevan is «putting spokes in the wheel» of the process of opening Zangezur transportation corridor; only recently the Armenian authorities agreed to start practical work on delineation and demarcation of the state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Armenian military forces are shelling the positions and posts of Azerbaijan practically everyday, all sorts of provocative and subversive acts are organized.

In this environment Baku, opposite to Yerevan, is acting responsibly and consistently. According to President Ilham Aliyev, in Azerbaijan they intend to turn the page of the multi-year adversarial stand with Armenia and launch normal interaction.

Azerbaijan offered Armenia to sign a peace treaty between the two countries. The fundamentals for normalization of the bilateral relations include five points:

  1. Mutual recognition of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, inviolability of borders and political independence of each other;
  2. Mutual confirmation of the absence of territorial claims against each other, assumption of legal obligation not to initiate such claims in future;
  3. Refrain from threats to each others security in international relations, from using menaces and force against political independence and territorial integrity, as well as other tools not in compliance with the UN Charter;
  4. Delimitation and demarcation of the state border, establishment of diplomatic relations;
  5. Opening of transport and communication spheres, building new communications facilities and facilitating the cooperation in other spheres of mutual interest.

The Armenias response may be characterized as another portion of political demagoguery and revisionism.

Such behaviour of Yerevan causes barely disguised annoyance in the Kremlin and at Staraya Ploschad. In essence, time has come to start political enforcement of Armenia to practically implement the agreements signed by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. Today Moscow is extremely interested in peaceful settlement between Baku and Yerevan. This immediately opens the way for all the parties to de-block regional communications and to launch transportation corridors of different formats. Why is it so important right now? In the context of the aggravating conflict with the «collective West», Russia found itself in the situation of unprecedented transport blockade comparable only to the situation during the Great Patriotic War. In those years all the western transportation flows were completely cutoff, and the cargo turnover via the Trans-Siberian railway was significantly limited. Only the North-South corridor saved Russia from complete blockade then, guaranteeing the lend-lease supplies of weapons and strategic materials via Iran and the Caspian Sea. Now it looks like history repeating itself, but at new and more dangerous volution.

So far, Russian diplomatic announcement still refer to «turning the South Caucasus into a region of stability and tranquility», which has been in regular use starting from the winter of 2020; however, the time is expiring relentlessly. In the situation of actually existing martial law, the absence of any negotiation results looks not just inadmissible, but unsparingly dangerous for the national interest of Russia, in the first place. For example, in the context of the discussions about resuming the activities of the OECD Minsk Group, Armenia us trying to push the interests of the Western stakeholder France and the United States. These unfriendly countries are directly interested in enhancing the blockade of Russia and in the protraction of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan instead of resolving it and de-blocking the transportation corridors.

The negotiations under the auspices of the OECD Minsk Group lasted for more than 25 years without achieving any success; the situation changed only when weapons were used. Ilham Aliyev reminded about that at the opening of the 9th Global Forum in Baku. According to the President of Azerbaijan, the work of the OECD Minsk Group did not produce any results, this structure is not functional, and any attempts to revive it are counterproductive. We need to say good-bye to this counter-productive group, not «thank you and good-bye», just «good-bye», because it is time for it to retire, Ilham Aliyev emphasized. [2] In essence, it is hard to counter with such clear-cut and unbiassed assessment of the situation.

It should be noted that the corps of Russian Ambassadors in the Caspian region and Turkmenistan is represented unfortunately by pensioners, which especially hits the eye in the situation, when the heads of Western diplomatic missions are perfectly in their prime, sharp-tongues and active both within the political circles and in the media (especially, the ambassadors of the UK and the USA). There are many questions to be asked with respect to the efficiency of Russian «soft power» instruments, the performance of the representative offices of Rossotrudnichestvo (the Federal Agency for CIS Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation) and the formats of the events they organize. It looks like the remake of «the favorite tunes about the main things» is nearing the end of its life, and the time for drastic changes (both in terms of the human resources and organizations) is arriving to the Caspian region.

Competition of the strategic projects

Today, the Caspian region is undergoing the tremendous upheaval the competition of the global players is getting tighter, and the role of Moscow (which practically had no alternative in the past) as a political moderator and a strong-arm regional security guarantor is subject to numerous tests. Figuratively speaking, the Caspian region stopped being Russias backyard, but remained its soft underbelly. The previous political and economic poky hole of early 1990s, where nothing happened, right before our eyes the Caspian region is turning into a priority venue for external forces and a potential source of new threats. The recent visits by foreign counterparties of Sergey Lavrov high-level representatives of Chinese and American diplomacy confirm this.

The Head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of PRC, an influential member of the State Council Mr. Wang Yi visited Kazakhstan on 6-9 June 2022. Participation in the third meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs in the Central Asia China format (C+C5) was announced as the main purpose of the visit.  [3] Several major projects in Central Asia with PRC participation were discussed including the construction of China Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan railway and the Trans-Caspian (or the so-called Middle) corridor development bypassing Russia. In addition to the significant economic support, the Chinese diplomacy leaders promised to gurantee the regional stability and advised to the Central Asian countries to keep neutral with respect to the Ukrainian conflict. This visit of Wang Yi was organized in preparation to the visit by Xi Jinping, the leader of the Peoples Republic of China, who is scheduled to visit the region in the fall of 2022. Such personal participation of the Chinese leader directly shows Bejings high level of interest towards the Caspian and Turkestan regions.

In mid-June, the new head of the US Central Command (CENTCOMs operational area of responsibility includes Middle East, South and Central Asia) visited the region with detailed inspection. General Michael Kurilla arrived just a few weeks after the visit of Donald Lu, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs, who took a hefty US delegation across the entire Central Asian region. Special focus was made on deepening the interaction in trade and economy, investment, transportation and logistics. According to The Washington Post, now the United States see the possibility to «offset» the influence of Russia in Central Asia. The media emphasize that both visit took place against the background of the aggravating conflict in the Ukraine and growing concern of the Central Asian elites with respect to future goals of the Kremling in the post-Soviet zone. [4]

Direct bilateral cooperation between the countries of the region is also expanding. Thus, on June 21 the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev paid an official state visit to Uzbekistan. [5]  The focus of his negotiations with President Shavkat Mirziyoyev was on expansion of economic interaction, security issues, military and political cooperation. In the sphere of transportation, special emphasis was placed on developing multimodal corridors in the Caspian region with accessing Turkey and then Europe through the post of Baku. Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan both perform as connecting links between Central Asia, the South Caucasus and other countries of European and Asian continents within the Trans-Caspian railway corridor. Earlier, Uzbekistan has already agreed with Turkmenistan directly and assured its access to the Caspian Sea via Turkmenbashi port. As we can see, the regional leaders do not wait for Moscow to publically announce its goals in the Caspian region, but start resolving their urgent issues themselves.

Another important fact is worth noting. On June 25, the US President Joe Biden received Khazar Ibrahim, the Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Washington, in the White House. The details of this meeting are held in confidence; however, it is absolutely obvious that the US leaders have a good sense of the fact, that today Azerbaijan is becoming one of the key countries in the Caspian Region and the geopolitical status of Baku is growing. It appears to be absolutely correct on behalf of the Kremlin to demonstrate a similar courtesy with respect to Polad Bülbüloğlu, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Azerbaijan to the Russian Federation, whom President Vladimir Putin could receive in his residence. After all, it is known that «the Orient is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma».

New approaches required

In the light of the current international situation, the visit by the RF Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov to Baku riveted special attention. He was expected to announce conceptual practical initiatives in the sphere of regional development, as well as Russias strategic position at the forefront of the 6th Caspian Forum scheduled for June 29 in Ashkhabad. However, during the joint press-conference with Jeyhun Bayramov, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, it was stated that «Russia values its relations with Azerbaijan counting on the development of the flied interaction». Azerbaijan and Russia also signed the information security agreement and a number of other documents.

Probably, the plan is to voice new initiatives and approaches of Moscow to resolving the problems of the Caspian Region at the session of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Caspian states, and then specify it at the 6th Caspian summit.

At the same time, significant rapprochement of the positions of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia on implementation of the trilateral Declaration of the leaders of these countries is observed. Thus, the RF Minister of Foreign Affairs noted that he had not discussed the activities of ECD Minsk Group with his counterparty from Azerbaijan. «The OECD Minsk Group stopped its activities on the initiative of the USA and France», Sergey Lavrov reminded. [6] The head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan Jeyhun Bayramov, in his turn, emphasized that «artificial protraction of normalizing the relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia leads to adverse effects and entails big risks». Azerbaijan is in favor of leaving the Karabakh conflict behind, and implementation of all the signed agreements is required to normalize the relations with Armenia.

The importance of the launched process of delimitation and demarcation of borders was emphasized. «We agreed with Moscow on the second meeting of the Commission for delimitation of borders between Azerbaijan and Armenia, right now we are in the process of selecting the date convenient for both parties», Sergey Lavrov said at the joint press conference with Jeyhun Bayramov. However, it is no longer possible to postpone the resolution of this pressing problem, especially, in the current context.

At their joint press conference, the heads of Russian and Azeri diplomacies emphasized that both countries lay special emphasis on expansion of the transit communications in the region. That is why not only the Zangezur Corridor project takes on special significance, but also the North-South Corridor, which proved its efficiency and has enough capacity for growth. At the same time, there is an entire block of joint unimplemented projects in this sphere, which need urgent activation. For example, establishment of a specialized investment fund focused on the infrastructure of regional transportation corridors, probably, setting-up a joint consortium of banks and insurance companies for export-import financing, and many others. In fact, in the war-time conditions, the North-South Corridor becomes our «Road of Life». This is a compelling reason for resolving the twin challenge developing the new strategy for comprehensive development of the Caspian region as the first priority of Russian policy, and establishing an influential think tank to develop and implement these strategic tasks.

Not straining the relations with allies and partners

A number of experts quite fairly note, that in the information society some representatives of a certain narrow stratum in the Russian mass media elite connected with the ethnic expat communities often try to arbitrarily articulate and impose the current political priorities of Russia. They are demonstrating much quicker response to the changing external environment compared to the government officials, provide loud public political assessments and stigmatize even the heads of the CSTO member states, often doing it long before the official assessment of the situation by Russian authorities. At the same time, the representatives of this narrow media stratum assert speculative claims against Russian public officials, raise absurd demands, bring forward unjustified territorial claims against the Caspian countries neighboring Russia and voice threats against them, sometimes even open calls for war, for example, with Turkey. Like any corporate sector with significant influence and money, this stratum of Russian media community tries to formalize the foreign policy agenda to meet certain narrow egoistic interests of some expat communities. In fact, a real media-political complex was formed in Russia serving selfish group interests, but not the national interests of the Russian Federation.

This stratum of Russian media community is directly interested in stirring the hysteria, replication of threats and ongoing search for enemies in the Turkic world, including among the allies and partners of Russia. The underpinning logic is quite simple: the higher the demand for propaganda, the bigger are the allocated budgets including funding of smear campaigns. Oftentimes, such propagandists not just strive for «fueling hype» on Russian TV, but carry out an external order of ethnic lobbyists or foreign policy-makers under the cover of «protecting the national interests of the Russian Federation». At the same time, they often go unpunished, because they seem to be even more infallible than the Pope. One of the most recent examples is the mayhem in media around the speech of the President of Kazakhstan at the SPIEF and powered  mud-slinging against K.-J. Tokayev. This nearly resulted in the breach of relations with the most important strategic ally of the Russian Federation. It seems that such overindulgence of media and political rudeness need to be decisively terminated, especially in the context of special military operation.

Enhancing the role and status of the RF Security Council

Where is the center of determining the strategic interests of Russia today?

It needs to be clearly understood that the adversarial positions of Russia and «collective West» is here to stay. [7] This conflict will not be limited by the special military operation timeline, or by just Ukrainian theater territory. The coalition of hostile countries headed by the US declared a total war of annihilation against us. In order to stand against this civilizational challenge, Russia needs a single center for management, coordination and development of victorious strategy.

Only the RF Security Council transformed into the Supreme Commander-in-Chief General Headquarters may perform in such capacity. For that the Council needs to be fortified in terms of personnel and organization: increase its staff up to 400-500 people expertise, analytics, support of the decisions made, control over execution. The full-fledged Situation Center of the RF Security Council also needs to be established and deployed as the Situation Center with the President of Russia. The RF Presidents Inspectorate needs to be established with the RF Security Council with the right of inspection and control of the activities of any Russian ministries, agencies, services, corporations and organizations.

The Security Council of Russia should undertake the development of new strategic concepts including the approaches to the Caspian region future, and exercise control over their implementation.

1. The RF Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Azerbaijan is an important partner and ally in the South Caucasus and in the Caspian region. Sputnik Azerbaijan, 23.06.2022. https://az.sputniknews.ru/20220623/mid-rf-azerbaydzhan--vazhnyy-partner-i-soyuznik-na-yuzhnom-kavkaze-i-v-kaspiyskom-regione-443263050.html

2. «Goodbye»: Aliyev about the performance of the OECD Minsk. NEWS. ru, 16.06.2022. https://news.ru/world/proshaj-aliev-o-deyatelnosti-minskoj-gruppy-obse/

3. Central Asia China: the outcomes of the session of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs. Kapital.kz, 08.06.2022. https://kapital.kz/gosudarstvo/106173/tsentral-naya-aziya-kitay-itogi-soveshchaniya-ministrov-inostrannykh-del.html

4. U.S. works to scale up intelligence networks in Central Asia. The Washington Post, 21.06.2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/06/21/us-central-asia-counterterrorism/

5. The visit of the President of Azerbaijan is completed. Website of the President of Uzbekistan Republic, 22.06.2022. https://president.uz/ru/lists/view/5285

6. Lavrov: the OECD Minsk Group terminated its activities on the initiative of Frans and the USA. Vedomosti, 24.06.2022. https://www.vedomosti.ru/politics/news/2022/06/24/928294-lavrov-minskaya-gruppa

7. Lavrov: NATO and EU are setting us a coalition for war against Russia. Vedomosti,, 24.06.2022. https://www.vedomosti.ru/politics/news/2022/06/24/928300-lavrov-nato-i-es-sobirayut-koalitsiyu

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Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies
Reports

Sergey Lavrovs visit to Baku against the background of the competing strategic Caspian-related projects of the leading global powers

25 2022

On June 23-24, Sergey Lavrov, the Head of the RF Ministry of Foreign Affairs, paid an official visit to Baku. From the very beginning, Russia considered that visit extremely important for several reasons. Firstly, that was the first top-level contact between Moscow and Baku since the Presidents Vladimir Putin and Ilham Aliyev signed the historic Alliance Declaration in February 2022. Secondly, in the context of the confrontation build-up between Russia and the West, the Caspian region becomes the transportation and energy hub of great importance. Thirdly, the leading global powers today are competing with their strategic projects around the Caspian Sea.

Political enforcement of Armenia to discharge its obligations

The main item on the agenda of negotiations held in Baku was associated with the problems in implementing the trilateral Declaration of the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia dated 10 November 2020 and the follow-up top-level agreements. The official position of the RF Ministry of Foreign Affairs is as follows: Baku is the strategic partner of Moscow in the South Caucasus and in the Caspian region. One of the key areas of Russian efforts here is de-blocking transportation communications in the region. One of the key foreign policy priorities for Russia is to facilitate the normalization of the relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. [1] In the beginning of June, Sergey Lavrov visited Yerevan to discuss similar issues of bilateral relations normalization.

Even though formally Yerevan declared many times its commitment to the achieved agreements on settling the conflict and normalizing the relations with Baku, in reality no practical steps were made by Armenia during the past 18 months, except for declarations and undisguised political demagoguery. The Armenian side either bluntly hampers the implementation of the agreements, or acts under the principle «one step forward, two steps backwards». In addition to the permanent focus on the status of unlawful separatist regime in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, Yerevan is «putting spokes in the wheel» of the process of opening Zangezur transportation corridor; only recently the Armenian authorities agreed to start practical work on delineation and demarcation of the state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Armenian military forces are shelling the positions and posts of Azerbaijan practically everyday, all sorts of provocative and subversive acts are organized.

In this environment Baku, opposite to Yerevan, is acting responsibly and consistently. According to President Ilham Aliyev, in Azerbaijan they intend to turn the page of the multi-year adversarial stand with Armenia and launch normal interaction.

Azerbaijan offered Armenia to sign a peace treaty between the two countries. The fundamentals for normalization of the bilateral relations include five points:

  1. Mutual recognition of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, inviolability of borders and political independence of each other;
  2. Mutual confirmation of the absence of territorial claims against each other, assumption of legal obligation not to initiate such claims in future;
  3. Refrain from threats to each others security in international relations, from using menaces and force against political independence and territorial integrity, as well as other tools not in compliance with the UN Charter;
  4. Delimitation and demarcation of the state border, establishment of diplomatic relations;
  5. Opening of transport and communication spheres, building new communications facilities and facilitating the cooperation in other spheres of mutual interest.

The Armenias response may be characterized as another portion of political demagoguery and revisionism.

Such behaviour of Yerevan causes barely disguised annoyance in the Kremlin and at Staraya Ploschad. In essence, time has come to start political enforcement of Armenia to practically implement the agreements signed by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. Today Moscow is extremely interested in peaceful settlement between Baku and Yerevan. This immediately opens the way for all the parties to de-block regional communications and to launch transportation corridors of different formats. Why is it so important right now? In the context of the aggravating conflict with the «collective West», Russia found itself in the situation of unprecedented transport blockade comparable only to the situation during the Great Patriotic War. In those years all the western transportation flows were completely cutoff, and the cargo turnover via the Trans-Siberian railway was significantly limited. Only the North-South corridor saved Russia from complete blockade then, guaranteeing the lend-lease supplies of weapons and strategic materials via Iran and the Caspian Sea. Now it looks like history repeating itself, but at new and more dangerous volution.

So far, Russian diplomatic announcement still refer to «turning the South Caucasus into a region of stability and tranquility», which has been in regular use starting from the winter of 2020; however, the time is expiring relentlessly. In the situation of actually existing martial law, the absence of any negotiation results looks not just inadmissible, but unsparingly dangerous for the national interest of Russia, in the first place. For example, in the context of the discussions about resuming the activities of the OECD Minsk Group, Armenia us trying to push the interests of the Western stakeholder France and the United States. These unfriendly countries are directly interested in enhancing the blockade of Russia and in the protraction of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan instead of resolving it and de-blocking the transportation corridors.

The negotiations under the auspices of the OECD Minsk Group lasted for more than 25 years without achieving any success; the situation changed only when weapons were used. Ilham Aliyev reminded about that at the opening of the 9th Global Forum in Baku. According to the President of Azerbaijan, the work of the OECD Minsk Group did not produce any results, this structure is not functional, and any attempts to revive it are counterproductive. We need to say good-bye to this counter-productive group, not «thank you and good-bye», just «good-bye», because it is time for it to retire, Ilham Aliyev emphasized. [2] In essence, it is hard to counter with such clear-cut and unbiassed assessment of the situation.

It should be noted that the corps of Russian Ambassadors in the Caspian region and Turkmenistan is represented unfortunately by pensioners, which especially hits the eye in the situation, when the heads of Western diplomatic missions are perfectly in their prime, sharp-tongues and active both within the political circles and in the media (especially, the ambassadors of the UK and the USA). There are many questions to be asked with respect to the efficiency of Russian «soft power» instruments, the performance of the representative offices of Rossotrudnichestvo (the Federal Agency for CIS Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation) and the formats of the events they organize. It looks like the remake of «the favorite tunes about the main things» is nearing the end of its life, and the time for drastic changes (both in terms of the human resources and organizations) is arriving to the Caspian region.

Competition of the strategic projects

Today, the Caspian region is undergoing the tremendous upheaval the competition of the global players is getting tighter, and the role of Moscow (which practically had no alternative in the past) as a political moderator and a strong-arm regional security guarantor is subject to numerous tests. Figuratively speaking, the Caspian region stopped being Russias backyard, but remained its soft underbelly. The previous political and economic poky hole of early 1990s, where nothing happened, right before our eyes the Caspian region is turning into a priority venue for external forces and a potential source of new threats. The recent visits by foreign counterparties of Sergey Lavrov high-level representatives of Chinese and American diplomacy confirm this.

The Head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of PRC, an influential member of the State Council Mr. Wang Yi visited Kazakhstan on 6-9 June 2022. Participation in the third meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs in the Central Asia China format (C+C5) was announced as the main purpose of the visit.  [3] Several major projects in Central Asia with PRC participation were discussed including the construction of China Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan railway and the Trans-Caspian (or the so-called Middle) corridor development bypassing Russia. In addition to the significant economic support, the Chinese diplomacy leaders promised to gurantee the regional stability and advised to the Central Asian countries to keep neutral with respect to the Ukrainian conflict. This visit of Wang Yi was organized in preparation to the visit by Xi Jinping, the leader of the Peoples Republic of China, who is scheduled to visit the region in the fall of 2022. Such personal participation of the Chinese leader directly shows Bejings high level of interest towards the Caspian and Turkestan regions.

In mid-June, the new head of the US Central Command (CENTCOMs operational area of responsibility includes Middle East, South and Central Asia) visited the region with detailed inspection. General Michael Kurilla arrived just a few weeks after the visit of Donald Lu, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs, who took a hefty US delegation across the entire Central Asian region. Special focus was made on deepening the interaction in trade and economy, investment, transportation and logistics. According to The Washington Post, now the United States see the possibility to «offset» the influence of Russia in Central Asia. The media emphasize that both visit took place against the background of the aggravating conflict in the Ukraine and growing concern of the Central Asian elites with respect to future goals of the Kremling in the post-Soviet zone. [4]

Direct bilateral cooperation between the countries of the region is also expanding. Thus, on June 21 the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev paid an official state visit to Uzbekistan. [5]  The focus of his negotiations with President Shavkat Mirziyoyev was on expansion of economic interaction, security issues, military and political cooperation. In the sphere of transportation, special emphasis was placed on developing multimodal corridors in the Caspian region with accessing Turkey and then Europe through the post of Baku. Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan both perform as connecting links between Central Asia, the South Caucasus and other countries of European and Asian continents within the Trans-Caspian railway corridor. Earlier, Uzbekistan has already agreed with Turkmenistan directly and assured its access to the Caspian Sea via Turkmenbashi port. As we can see, the regional leaders do not wait for Moscow to publically announce its goals in the Caspian region, but start resolving their urgent issues themselves.

Another important fact is worth noting. On June 25, the US President Joe Biden received Khazar Ibrahim, the Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Washington, in the White House. The details of this meeting are held in confidence; however, it is absolutely obvious that the US leaders have a good sense of the fact, that today Azerbaijan is becoming one of the key countries in the Caspian Region and the geopolitical status of Baku is growing. It appears to be absolutely correct on behalf of the Kremlin to demonstrate a similar courtesy with respect to Polad Bülbüloğlu, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Azerbaijan to the Russian Federation, whom President Vladimir Putin could receive in his residence. After all, it is known that «the Orient is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma».

New approaches required

In the light of the current international situation, the visit by the RF Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov to Baku riveted special attention. He was expected to announce conceptual practical initiatives in the sphere of regional development, as well as Russias strategic position at the forefront of the 6th Caspian Forum scheduled for June 29 in Ashkhabad. However, during the joint press-conference with Jeyhun Bayramov, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, it was stated that «Russia values its relations with Azerbaijan counting on the development of the flied interaction». Azerbaijan and Russia also signed the information security agreement and a number of other documents.

Probably, the plan is to voice new initiatives and approaches of Moscow to resolving the problems of the Caspian Region at the session of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Caspian states, and then specify it at the 6th Caspian summit.

At the same time, significant rapprochement of the positions of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia on implementation of the trilateral Declaration of the leaders of these countries is observed. Thus, the RF Minister of Foreign Affairs noted that he had not discussed the activities of ECD Minsk Group with his counterparty from Azerbaijan. «The OECD Minsk Group stopped its activities on the initiative of the USA and France», Sergey Lavrov reminded. [6] The head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan Jeyhun Bayramov, in his turn, emphasized that «artificial protraction of normalizing the relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia leads to adverse effects and entails big risks». Azerbaijan is in favor of leaving the Karabakh conflict behind, and implementation of all the signed agreements is required to normalize the relations with Armenia.

The importance of the launched process of delimitation and demarcation of borders was emphasized. «We agreed with Moscow on the second meeting of the Commission for delimitation of borders between Azerbaijan and Armenia, right now we are in the process of selecting the date convenient for both parties», Sergey Lavrov said at the joint press conference with Jeyhun Bayramov. However, it is no longer possible to postpone the resolution of this pressing problem, especially, in the current context.

At their joint press conference, the heads of Russian and Azeri diplomacies emphasized that both countries lay special emphasis on expansion of the transit communications in the region. That is why not only the Zangezur Corridor project takes on special significance, but also the North-South Corridor, which proved its efficiency and has enough capacity for growth. At the same time, there is an entire block of joint unimplemented projects in this sphere, which need urgent activation. For example, establishment of a specialized investment fund focused on the infrastructure of regional transportation corridors, probably, setting-up a joint consortium of banks and insurance companies for export-import financing, and many others. In fact, in the war-time conditions, the North-South Corridor becomes our «Road of Life». This is a compelling reason for resolving the twin challenge developing the new strategy for comprehensive development of the Caspian region as the first priority of Russian policy, and establishing an influential think tank to develop and implement these strategic tasks.

Not straining the relations with allies and partners

A number of experts quite fairly note, that in the information society some representatives of a certain narrow stratum in the Russian mass media elite connected with the ethnic expat communities often try to arbitrarily articulate and impose the current political priorities of Russia. They are demonstrating much quicker response to the changing external environment compared to the government officials, provide loud public political assessments and stigmatize even the heads of the CSTO member states, often doing it long before the official assessment of the situation by Russian authorities. At the same time, the representatives of this narrow media stratum assert speculative claims against Russian public officials, raise absurd demands, bring forward unjustified territorial claims against the Caspian countries neighboring Russia and voice threats against them, sometimes even open calls for war, for example, with Turkey. Like any corporate sector with significant influence and money, this stratum of Russian media community tries to formalize the foreign policy agenda to meet certain narrow egoistic interests of some expat communities. In fact, a real media-political complex was formed in Russia serving selfish group interests, but not the national interests of the Russian Federation.

This stratum of Russian media community is directly interested in stirring the hysteria, replication of threats and ongoing search for enemies in the Turkic world, including among the allies and partners of Russia. The underpinning logic is quite simple: the higher the demand for propaganda, the bigger are the allocated budgets including funding of smear campaigns. Oftentimes, such propagandists not just strive for «fueling hype» on Russian TV, but carry out an external order of ethnic lobbyists or foreign policy-makers under the cover of «protecting the national interests of the Russian Federation». At the same time, they often go unpunished, because they seem to be even more infallible than the Pope. One of the most recent examples is the mayhem in media around the speech of the President of Kazakhstan at the SPIEF and powered  mud-slinging against K.-J. Tokayev. This nearly resulted in the breach of relations with the most important strategic ally of the Russian Federation. It seems that such overindulgence of media and political rudeness need to be decisively terminated, especially in the context of special military operation.

Enhancing the role and status of the RF Security Council

Where is the center of determining the strategic interests of Russia today?

It needs to be clearly understood that the adversarial positions of Russia and «collective West» is here to stay. [7] This conflict will not be limited by the special military operation timeline, or by just Ukrainian theater territory. The coalition of hostile countries headed by the US declared a total war of annihilation against us. In order to stand against this civilizational challenge, Russia needs a single center for management, coordination and development of victorious strategy.

Only the RF Security Council transformed into the Supreme Commander-in-Chief General Headquarters may perform in such capacity. For that the Council needs to be fortified in terms of personnel and organization: increase its staff up to 400-500 people expertise, analytics, support of the decisions made, control over execution. The full-fledged Situation Center of the RF Security Council also needs to be established and deployed as the Situation Center with the President of Russia. The RF Presidents Inspectorate needs to be established with the RF Security Council with the right of inspection and control of the activities of any Russian ministries, agencies, services, corporations and organizations.

The Security Council of Russia should undertake the development of new strategic concepts including the approaches to the Caspian region future, and exercise control over their implementation.

1. The RF Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Azerbaijan is an important partner and ally in the South Caucasus and in the Caspian region. Sputnik Azerbaijan, 23.06.2022. https://az.sputniknews.ru/20220623/mid-rf-azerbaydzhan--vazhnyy-partner-i-soyuznik-na-yuzhnom-kavkaze-i-v-kaspiyskom-regione-443263050.html

2. «Goodbye»: Aliyev about the performance of the OECD Minsk. NEWS. ru, 16.06.2022. https://news.ru/world/proshaj-aliev-o-deyatelnosti-minskoj-gruppy-obse/

3. Central Asia China: the outcomes of the session of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs. Kapital.kz, 08.06.2022. https://kapital.kz/gosudarstvo/106173/tsentral-naya-aziya-kitay-itogi-soveshchaniya-ministrov-inostrannykh-del.html

4. U.S. works to scale up intelligence networks in Central Asia. The Washington Post, 21.06.2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/06/21/us-central-asia-counterterrorism/

5. The visit of the President of Azerbaijan is completed. Website of the President of Uzbekistan Republic, 22.06.2022. https://president.uz/ru/lists/view/5285

6. Lavrov: the OECD Minsk Group terminated its activities on the initiative of Frans and the USA. Vedomosti, 24.06.2022. https://www.vedomosti.ru/politics/news/2022/06/24/928294-lavrov-minskaya-gruppa

7. Lavrov: NATO and EU are setting us a coalition for war against Russia. Vedomosti,, 24.06.2022. https://www.vedomosti.ru/politics/news/2022/06/24/928300-lavrov-nato-i-es-sobirayut-koalitsiyu