06/02/2013 09:46 GMT | Updated 08/04/2013 06:12 BST

A Trans Caspian Project May Lead to Military Confrontation Within the Region

Azerbaijan stands out as the only former Soviet republic that can neither be described as pro-Russian or pro-Western.

Azerbaijan stands out as the only former Soviet republic that can neither be described as pro-Russian or pro-Western. It has maintained cordial relations with Moscow, without having to sacrifice its economy and foreign policy to the Kremlin's demands. The Russian government has chosen a soft and pragmatic approach despite Baku looking westwards. The two historically bounded neighbours obviously share common interests in the region such as the geopolitics of pipeline diplomacy.

Whilst Azerbaijan is a Trans-Caspian pipeline project partner it is not so keenly interested in having the new pipeline constructed since the existing Azerbaijani oil exports via the Baku - Tbilisi - Erzurum pipeline to Turkey would be exposed to extra competition. For this reason the US backed diplomacy of the Nabucco partners is coercing Baku and Ashgabat to overcome their current disagreements. The latter disagree on which of them owns the Kapaz/Serdar hydrocarbon deposit.

One of the most obvious obstacles to implementing the Trans-Caspian project is the undefined legal status of the Caspian Sea. The debate includes such complicated issues as whether the Caspian Sea is an inland sea or a border lake and consequently whether the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is applicable. Neither Russia nor Iran would tolerate infringements upon their interests in the Caspian region. Kazakhstan whose own gas reserves are modest maintains neutrality in the dispute. Iran and Russia believe that construction of the pipeline cannot begin before all five Caspian countries have signed a treaty on the legal status of the sea.

Iran is opposed to pipelining along the sea bed due to the ecological risks. Iran is also keen to avoid an increase in the number of foreign military bases in the Caspian region that would accompany additional pipeline construction. At the same time, the impossibility of compromise on the issues of Caspian Sea borders and contradictions regarding ownership of the disputed oil and gas fields has caused all sides to strengthen their navies. The United States is set to provide financial and technical support to the countries of the Caspian region for the creation, training and equipping of anti-terrorist structures which insure the protection of the vital communications and infrastructures for energy export. Having absolute naval superiority Russia will try to prevent the ships under the flags of non-regional countries from entering the Caspian Sea. Militarisation of the Caspian Sea could also be considered as the cause of the bigger geopolitical tension in the entire Eurasian continent.

The above summary leads one to conclude that the Armed Forces of the Caspian states are unlikely to be used until the Trans Caspian project, having clear geopolitical significance, passes to the practical implementation stage. The most imminent military threat to the region remains an escalation of the tension surrounding the Iranian nuclear programme.