Turkmenistan plans military base on Caspian Sea

On Aug. 31, Turkmen President Berdymukhamedov announced the nation will build a naval base on the Caspian to defend against encroachments from foreign powers. Experts believe that the real motive for the decision is the long-running conflict with Azebaijan over disputed oil deposits under the sea.

Elnur Ataguly

2009-09-07

TURKMENISTAN — At a Turkmen National Security Council meeting on August 31, President Berdymukhamedov announced a plan to build a military base on the Caspian Sea by 2015.

“On my orders, special work is being carried out right now to strengthen our maritime border and the security of the Caspian coast that belongs to our state from alien encroachments,” the president said. Officially, his reference to “aliens” referred to smugglers and terrorists. Practically speaking, however, it referred to Azerbaijanis and a 15 year conflict with Azerbaijan over disputed oil deposits under the Caspian Sea. On Berdymukhamedov's order, the country is to form a system of radar and optical monitoring of the sea area. The Turkmen navy is also acquiring high-speed patrol boats, while the Border Service intends to buy two boats armed with rockets.

Turkmenistan shares the Caspian shore with Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran and Azerbaijan. While Baku, Moscow and Astana have long had two- or three-sided agreements, Ashgabat has, for 15 years, been unable to come to a compromise on dividing the ocean floor or determining the ownership of three oil deposits located between their shores.

Baku refers to maps from the Soviet period, when these deposits were being developed by Azeri oil workers, while Ashgabat insists that they are closer to the Turkmen coast. In July, the Turkmen president announced his country's intention to appeal to the International Court of Justice to resolve the status of the disputed fields.

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry says Baku supports a peaceful Caspian Sea, making it clear that it does not welcome the idea of a Turkmen military base along its shore. Ministry official Elkhan Polukhov noted that “Azerbaijan supports the demilitarisation of the Caspian basin” and the resolution of all questions through talks.

On September 3, Turkmen and Azeri leaders agreed by telephone to discuss the existing problems at an informal meeting of the heads of state of Turkmenistan, Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan on September 13 in the Kazakh port of Aktau.

[Reuters.ru, CA-News.org, Bakililar.az, Turkmenistan.ru, APA.az, Vesti.uz]

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