Azerbaijan’s navy in the Caspian flotilla security discussion

“Azerbaijan’s Navy a topic of national security discussion”

Rachel Brooks

March 21, 2021 

News and analysis 

Image credit: “170216-D-PB383-026” by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is licensed under CC BY 2.0.  photo from a joint exercise of the U.S. and Azerbaijani forces. 

Eurasia Review noted the importance of the Caspian flotilla in the Caucasus security discussion in its recent reports. The recent development of Azerbaijan’s navy through “smart spending” in the Caspian region was a topic of discussion on March 21, when Eurasia Review posted a special report on the topic of changing security dynamics in the region.

Azerbaijan’s official navy was founded in 1919, but with the politics of the Soviet era, and the post-Soviet independence struggle, a reestablishing of the Azerbaijani navy has continued to take place since this documented date, with “smart spending practices” and various other procedural developments. 

The western world and the international community continue to focus on the Russian-Ukraine conflict, and therefore, Eurasia Review stated, they neglect to pay attention to the security discussion surrounding the Caspian flotilla. Despite this fact, Russian interests in the region have been gradually developing since at least 2018. 

“On October 16, six warships of Russia’s Caspian Flotilla, including three corvettes armed with nuclear-capable long-range Kalibr cruise missiles, engaged in war games backed up by Southern Military District Air Force jets,” wrote the Jamestown Foundation’s Pavel Felgenhauer, in October 2020.

“The participating units operated in the Caspian just north of the Absheron Peninsula, the location of the Azerbaijani port-city and capital Baku, the country’s biggest and most populous city.”

For example, in April 2018, Paul Goble, a notable commentator on Caucasus issues, wrote on his Window of Eurasia blog that Moscow’s regional calculations were “shifting”.’ Goble wrote about the shifting focus from Astrakhan to Dagestan in Moscow’s Caspian flotilla strategy.

“Yesterday, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu announced that Moscow was shifting the home base of its Caspian flotilla from Astrakhan at the northern edge of the sea to Kaspiisk, a Daghestani facility, some 400 kilometers away south toward the central section of the landlocked body of water,” wrote Goble, as of 2018. 

Russia’s presence in the region is not the only security concern that Azerbaijan’s navy might face. Recent reports from western outlets such as the National Interest and the Washington Examiner have suggested that Iran has, in recent history, threatened Azerbaijan to some capacity, likely over its strategic and economic relationship with Iran’s regarded archenemy Israel. Paul Goble, contributing to the Jamestown Foundation, wrote in May 2020 that Iran was “expanding its naval presence in the Caspian.” 

“Western analysts tend to focus on the Iranian navy almost exclusively in terms of its ability to harass or block oil tankers coming through the Strait of Hormuz, an understandable perspective given the danger that Iran could disorder world oil markets if it was successful in doing so,” wrote Paul Goble, in his report with the Jamestown Foundation. 

“But Russian analysts have an additional worry—Iran’s growing naval presence in the Caspian Sea and its use of that presence to expand Tehran’s influence in the capitals of the littoral states of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, challenging Moscow’s currently dominant position.” 

This, coupled with the presence of Russian naval fleets, is a reason for Azerbaijan to develop strong Caspian defense policies amid post-conflict efforts as well as for its own sovereign security interests.