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Friday, 9 August, 2002, 14:15 GMT 15:15 UK
Caspian hosts major exercise
Map of Caspian Sea area

The largest military exercise of the post-Soviet period in the Caspian Sea is under way.

As well as Russian forces, contingents from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are taking part, and another Caspian littoral state, Iran, has sent observers.

Pipeline
The Caspian is an important strategic area for oil reserves
The Caspian is close to the troubled region of Chechnya, and is an important strategic area for oil reserves.

This exercise has aims to show that Russia and its Caspian neighbours are serious about protecting their strategic interests in the area.

It is also supposed to be a morale-booster for the Russian armed forces, whose image has been seriously damaged since the collapse of the USSR.

Anti-terrorist operation

Over 60 warships and 10,000 men are taking part.

Russian Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov
Ivanov: No threat to Russia's neighbours
The Caspian may be the world's largest land-locked mass of water, but that is still a sizeable force.

With the conflict still rumbling on in nearby Chechnya - something which Moscow declares is part of the international war against terrorism - the Russian Defence Ministry makes it clear that an important part of the exercise is an anti-terrorist operation.

Among the scenarios being acted out are the recapture of land and an oil platform seized by terrorists, and the foiling of an attempt to blow up a railway bridge over the River Volga.

Image consciousness

The delicate ecological balance in the Caspian is recognised, too - another aspect of the exercise will be to clear up after an oil spillage.

But there is no denying the importance of the exercise as one step on the road to improving the battered image of the armed forces in society, and their own flagging morale.

The Minister of Defence, Sergei Ivanov, and the commander of the Russian Border Guards, Colonel-General Konstantin Totsky, attended the opening.

Mr Ivanov stressed that the manoeuvres did not carry any threat to Russia's neighbours.

But he added that Russia would be naive to ignore the potential terrorist threat it faces in the Caspian region.

See also:

09 Jun 02 | Europe
26 Apr 02 | Europe
24 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
30 Sep 01 | Europe
06 Mar 02 | Europe
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