Geopolitics of the Caspian region

Led by Pavel K. Baev

May 2011 – May 2011

This project constitutes a part of larger research effort on the theme

The Caspian Region: Present-Day Risks and Longer-Term Uncertainties

Four institutes - ECON (coordinating), FFI, NUPI and PRIO - has established partnership for conducting this research in a three year program sponsored by the Ministry of Oil and Energy (OED), Statoil and Norsk Hydro. The overall design of the program is as following:

BackgroundThe Caspian Sea area constitutes a crossroads of several geopolitical spheres that are to a large degree shaped by energy interests. This producing and prospective oil-and-gas region holds great potential for the actors in the petroleum industry but political unrest is rife and the risks for investors are significant. The semi-authoritarian and authoritarian regimes in the countries adjacent to the Caspian Sea are under pressure from growing societal discontent that may assume the shape of so-called democratic revolutions but may also degenerate into violent unrest. Widespread poverty and de-modernization provide fertile ground for the growth of radical Islamist/fundamentalism that may acquire destructive dynamics, particularly if it joins forces with international terrorism and drug trafficking. As the US continues to be preoccupied with rebuilding the post-war Iraq, Russia concentrates its efforts on turning the tide of revolutionary changes, and attempts to ally itself with the ruling regimes in Central Asia, while China gradually increases its influence, so the geopolitical games in the region may take new and surprising turns. Are the petroleum actors prepared for the political environment they will need to operate in the years to come?

Three phases of research
The overall goal of this three-year research effort is to build a solid understanding of present-day risk and medium to long-term uncertainty surrounding petroleum activity in the Caspian Sea region.
Our approach is hermeneutic: We believe that the most effective way to build integrated and useful knowledge on these matters in the network of researchers and users, is to make iterative cycles of exploring “the whole” and its constituting “parts”. Knowledge integration across topics, themes and disciplines is key, and to achieve that purpose we have chosen scenario building as an overarching method of knowledge integration and creation.
In the first phase from October 2005 to February 2006, we created a first, shared overview issues and driving forces relevant to the long-term development of the Caspian Sea region. The outcome of that phase is a result in its own right, but also serves as the foundation upon which we have now designed the tentative phase 2.
Phase 2 will last from March 2006 to March 2007 (?), and following the hermeneutic logic suggested above, it will conclude with a new integrative analysis – this time in the shape of scenario sketches of the Caspian Sea region towards 2020. To that end, we are proposing four issue-specific sub-projects and one integrative sub-project. In addition, we are proposing two compact overview sketches on special topics of immediate relevance to the users. In phase 2, we will concentrate on the Caucasus side of the Caspian Sea region.
Phase 3 will probably start in March 2007 and last until the beginning of 2008. In that phase we hope to conclude with a full scenario analysis for the Caspian Sea region towards 2020 – based on learnings from the previous phases, and a set of new sub-projects. The sub-projects in phase 3 will focus on the Central Asian side of the Caspian Sea region.

The results from the first phase were presented in the working paper
The Caspian Sea Region Towards 2020
co-authored by Bjørn Brunstad, Pavel Baev and Phil Swanson
The paper is available at the ECON website (

The geopolitical angle of research and networking implemented during Phase 1 of the Caspian project amounted to the mapping of driving forces of various character and helped to identify the key issues and targets for further research. The preliminary assessment of the complexity of geopolitical interactions on three levels – regional, sub-regional, and state – revealed the contradictory nature of Russia’s interests and the vulnerability of US positions, while also emphasizing the growing impact of China on the political developments in Central Asia and of Iran – on the whole Caspian region.

The aim and goals for Phase 2The Caucasus has been chosen as the main research area in Phase 2 with the focus on the tensions caused by the shifts in interplays between key geopolitical drivers. Accordingly, the aim of this part of the project is to evaluate the pattern of Russia-US-EU political interactions in the Caucasus.
This aim includes two key goals:
• To assess Russia’s efforts at rebuilding its positions in Azerbaijan and the prospects for strengthening the US and the EU influence in this country;
• To examine the US and the EU attempts at de-escalating the developing conflict between Russia and Georgia.
Two secondary goals are:
• To analyze the geopolitical dimension of the escalating instability in the North Caucasus (in connection with the analysis of the impact of the Islamic factor);
• To monitor the dynamics of geopolitical interactions between key actors (incl. China and Iran) in Central Asia (building the foundation for research in Phase 3).

Implementation and output
The goals of the project are to be implemented through a flexible combination of academic research that involves building of a solid theory-informed expertise and policy-oriented analysis that provides for timely evaluation of risks related to current events. Networking is another key element of the project, and the key partners for the geopolitical research would be the Brookings Institution (Fiona Hill), the Johns Hopkins University (Svante Cornell), the Center for Strategic and International Studies (Cory Welt), and SIPRI (Neil Melvin). Presentations would be given at several seminars organized by these partners, as well as at the Statoil seminar in Baku (September).
The main event in would be a half-day seminar (November) with discussions on a couple of papers and a brainstorming session; all participants in the Russia Program would be invited to take part and a couple of external guests would be invited. Besides the summary paper from this seminar, the output of the research would consist in two articles in international peer-reviewed journals, several articles in other periodicals (CACI Analyst, Eurasia Daily Monitor) and media comments.

An error has occurred. This application may no longer respond until reloaded. An unhandled exception has occurred. See browser dev tools for details. Reload 🗙