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Caspian Flotilla

The Caspian Flotilla is a small force for coastal defense and waterways patrol consisting of two frigates, twelve patrol boats, and about fifty other small craft based in Astrakhan'. Command and equipment are shared with Azerbaijan and Kazakstan, other former Soviet republics on the Caspian littoral. The Caspian Flotilla was for a time a bone of contention between Russia and various other republics, though a March 1992 agreement divided up the Caspian Flotilla among Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. The withdrawal of troops from Azerbaijan required Russia to establish military infrastructure in Astrakhan, providing a new base for the Caspian flotilla.

Divided in 1992, by 1995 the Caspian sea flotilla was no longer able to cope with its mission of deterring smuggling. In mid-1997 Russia decided to reinforce the Caspian Flotilla and expand its activities. The flotilla will receive funding to create additional coastal facilities for its ships and a crack unit for special operations on land. It is also to receive additional armored personnel carriers for its marine infantry. A related program reportedly envisages more frequent visits by flotilla ships to Iranian ports.

The Caspian Sea, located on Iran's northern border, surrounded by Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan, and sharing a border with the south-west corner of Russian territory, is the epicentre of a collision of regional, national and business issues. These include questions among the littoral countries over demarcating the Sea, route diversification for oil pipelines, state interests, investor concern over political and ethnic stability, and the role of international agreements. The Caspian has been compared to the North Sea in size of petroleum holdings. It is credited with 20 to 40 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, though this pales in comparison to Russia's massive Siberian reserves bordering on 200 billion proven barrels.

The political battle over the Caspian began with a confrontation in April 1994 among Azerbaijan, Britain and Russia. Azerbaijan was turning toward an alliance with Turkey and proceeding with a de facto division of the Caspian Sea. Russia sought to prevent the Sea from being divided into national sectors as proscribed by the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention, because some of the Sea's richest deposits did not lie in its sector. Under these circumstances, it seemed possible that the Russian Caspian flotilla might launch a military operation to restore the status quo in the Caspian Sea. Finally, in November 1996 Russia proposed a 45-mile coastal zone, beyond which there would be a condominium approach to the problem.

In December 1722 the newly formed Russian Caspian flotilla made a landing in Enzeli. Rasht the capital of the Iranian province of Gilyan was then occupied. In July 1723 the Russian flotilla reached Baku, and the landing parties seized the city. In September 1723 the Russian-Iranian treaty was signed in St. Petersburg; under this treaty Derbent, Baku and Shirvan in Azerbaijan, and the Iranian provinces of Gilyan and Mazandaran passed to Russia.

According to national defense doctrine, Kazakstan had a minimal requirement for naval forces. In late 1993, Kazakstan received about 25 percent of the patrol boats and cutters in Russia's Caspian Sea Flotilla, which subsequently constituted the entire naval force. In 1993 naval bases were planned for Fort Shevchenko on the Caspian Sea and at Aral, north of the Aral Sea, but a scarcity of funds delayed completion. Kazakhstan since 1997 received ten ships from the USA and Germany. The Kazakh flotilla is intended to perform coastal guard missions only. Aktau is its main base. As of July 1998 the Caspian Flotilla of Kazakhstan took delivery of the third Kazakh-made combat cutter, built (as were the first two) at the Zenith shipyard in Uralsk, a city in western Kazakhstan. Two similar vessels remained under construction there.

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