Are Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan Putin’s next targets?

Gradually slipping out of Russia’s orbit of influence and given their status as significant exporters of oil and gas, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan may be Putin’s next targets in his hybrid war with the West and its allies.

The military and economic destabilization of the situation in Azerbaijan through a renewed conflict with Armenia and the launch of a ‘defense’ of the ‘Russian World’ in the northern, oil – producing regions of Kazakhstan may offer the Kremlin the higher oil prices it desperately needs to retain power.

As the political clout and energy – exportation capabilities of Russia fade, the Kremlin must forever search for new bargaining chips in its confrontation with the West and soon, perhaps, with China. In order to ‘create’ these chips, Russia must expand its field of political maneuvering and search for advantages it has to gain through regional conflict, one of which would be the boosting of oil prices which would in turn stimulate its own economy.

With the situation in Syria and in other countries of the Middle East becoming more and more complex, and yet remaining more or less unable to sharply contribute to further destabilization within the region of the Persian Gulf, the Kremlin might try to make its next move in the post – Soviet space.

In addition to its already on – going activities in the Ukraine, the Russian Federation will try to widen its zone of military conflicts in the Caucasus and Central Asia, intervening particularly in the affairs of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia and Kazakhstan.

What are the advantages Russia might gain in the energy sphere in the event of destabilization in Azerbaijan?

To answer this question, let’s consider the energy sphere of the country itself. For March of 2016, oil extraction in Azerbaijan was equivalent to about 0.84 million barrels per day. OPEC’s forecast for the year is about 0.82 million barrels per day. Such a volume is not substantial enough to have a critical effect on world oil prices, but if you take into consideration the cutbacks in oil production in other states such as Libya, Nigeria, Kuwait, Iraq and, in the case of destabilization, Kazakhstan, one could imagine that a weakened Azerbaijan could contribute to a higher price for oil.

In addition to its significant reserves, Azerbaijan’s creeping access to Western oil and gas markets provides Russia with another cause for concern. Azerbaijani experts suspect that recent attacks on the Baku – Tbilisi – Erzerum pipeline in addition to attacks on the Baku – Tbilisi – Ceyhan line (the main export pipeline for Azerbaijani oil) by Kurdish terrorists were supported with the indirect assistance of Russia.

And it doesn’t end there: Russia has also interfered with the energy – supply infrastructure of the South Caucasus itself, for example, the seizure of pipeline sections “Baku – Supsa” by Russian soldiers from the territory of South Ossetia last year.

The Southern Gas Corridor project is also a matter of great concern for Russia, which will provide for the beginning of the export of Caspian gas to the countries of the European Union. After the Russian – Turkish relation crisis, the president of Turkey, Recep Tayib Erdogan promised to quicken the realization of the pipeline project TAP / TANAP (Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline), the main part of the Southern Gas Corridor before 2019.

This means that in two or three years, the situation of Gazprom will have become even more dire. And before then, Putin will have to have identified additional financial resources and sources of conflict to retain his hold on his gradually slipping influence.

This article reflects the opinion of the author and as such may not coincide with that of Meydan TV.

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