Caspian Policy Center Discusses the COVID-19 Implications for Security Policy and Regional Cooperation with Foreign Policy and Security Experts from Washington and the Greater Caspian Region
Laura Cooper, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia at the U.S. Department of Defense; Clark Adams, Director of the Central Asia Policy at the U.S. Department of Defense; Hikmet Hajiyev, Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan and Head of the Department of Foreign Policy Affairs of the Presidential Administration; and Ambassador Henry S. Ensher were among the high-level speakers who joined the discussion to talk about the current security landscape of the Greater Caspian region amidst the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – TODAY, the Caspian Policy Center (CPC) brought together top foreign policy experts from the U.S. Departments of Defense, State, Customs and Border Protection, and senior international security and public policy experts from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan to discuss the COVID-19 Implications for security policy and regional cooperation in the Greater Caspian Region.
CPC’s Executive Director Efgan Nifti opened the event with welcome remarks that were followed by introductory comments from the moderator Ambassador Henry S. Ensher and speakers.
“Increasing regional cooperation between the Caspian’s Eastern and Western shores is a promising trend for the region and the United States. Initially started with connectivity projects, this cooperation not only mitigates COVID-19-related trade disruptions but also emerges as a critical stabilizing factor in this strategically important region,” said Mr. Nifti.
Laura Cooper, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia at the U.S. Department of Defense; Clark Adams, Director for Central Asia Policy, U.S. Department of Defense; Hikmet Hajiyev, Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan and Head of the Department of Foreign Policy Affairs of the Presidential Administration; Iskander Akylbayev, Executive Director of the Kazakhstan Council on International Relations; Akramdjan Nematov, First Deputy Director at the Institute for Strategic and Regional Studies under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan; Christina Bell, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Attaché to the U.S. Mission to the European Union and the Kingdom of Belgium; Andrew Breithaupt, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Representative to U.S. European Command; H.E. Elin Suleymanov, Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the United States; and Eldor Tulyakov, Executive Director of the Development Strategy Center in Uzbekistan were among the webinar panelists who talked on the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Caspian region and how it affects the security landscape, foreign policy strategies for resolving ongoing border conflicts, steps taken by the Caspian countries to bolster regional cooperation amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and geopolitical implications for stability in the Caspian region.
“Our cooperation in the Caspian region supports several key national defense strategy objectives: strengthening partnerships for the long-term advancement of U.S interests, defending the homeland from terrorist attacks, and preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” said Laura Cooper, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia at the U.S. Department of Defense.
“We absolutely recognize the dangerous neighborhood that Azerbaijan is in and the potential cross-border threats Azerbaijan faces wedged between Iran to the south and Russia to the north while at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia,” she added.
“We view the region as a critical component of our logistical access into Afghanistan and are keen on continuing to build the counter-terrorism and border security capabilities with the countries in Central Asia,” said Clark Adams, Director for Central Asia Policy, U.S. Department of Defense.
“In the context of the U.S. strategy for Central Asia and the European Union’s strategy for Central Asia, we do believe there is a great potential for further cooperation, particularly through connectivity projects. Therefore, we suggest having a Central Asia, United States, and Azerbaijan forum,” said Hikmet Hajiyev, Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan and Head of the Department of Foreign Policy Affairs of the Presidential Administration.
“Cooperation in Central Asia is growing but there is still a room for improvement. Cooperation with our partners from Azerbaijan and Georgia remains very important for Kazakhstan,” said Iskander Akylbayev, Executive Director of the Kazakhstan Council on International Relations.
“We have a very strong preference for protection of sovereignty, support for the independence and independent decision-making of the states in the region,” said Ambassador Henry S. Ensher
“Uzbekistan is especially interested in expanding cooperation in the area of transportation. The usage by Central Asian countries of the transit potential of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway will allow to diversify transport directions and enter new markets. In turn, for the South Caucasus, the territory of Central Asia can become a gateway providing access to China and South Asia. In the future, the construction of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway could be an important link of the east-west international transport corridor,” said Akramdjan Nematov, First Deputy Director at the Institute for Strategic and Regional Studies under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
The Caspian is an important and strategically located region with multiple regional and global actors working to bridge the divide left behind the Soviet Union. The resources located in and near the Caspian make the region of particular importance for locals and outsiders alike. The webinar promoted notable exchanges amongst the panelists on increasing resilience within the Caspian region countries security industry, lessons learned from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and actions taken to maintain diplomatic and military cooperation, and strategies implemented by the United States to contribute to the regional security and cooperation.
“Customs, border security, and border police tie into the national security picture both in enabling positive flows of trade and travel as well as protecting our homeland,” said Christina Bell, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Attaché to the U.S. Mission to the European Union and the Kingdom of Belgium.
“Even in pandemic situations, national security remains a critical point for countries. The situation continues to allow joint operations to some degree; movement of forces continue to happen. All of these are cross-border activities that do not seem to be suspended in pandemic,” said Andrew Breithaupt, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Representative to U.S. European Command.
“The Non-Aligned Movement is no longer just about the ideology and politics but is about practical implications of working together in multilateral institutions, and I think that is the reflection of Azerbaijan’s leadership,” said H.E. Elin Suleymanov, Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the United States.
“We believe that regional cooperation has a huge potential. Such events as those at Sardoba and Sokh, which occurred at the peak of the pandemic showed that, despite difficult times, neighboring countries can resolve any border problems peacefully. This is also a sign of integration, which must be continued,” said Eldor Tulyakov, Executive Director of the Development Strategy Center in Uzbekistan.
During the webinar, the speakers also highlighted the importance of incorporating Afghanistan into regional discussions to ensure stability and prosperity for the Caspian region. They noted that Afghanistan remains an important part of Central Asia from cultural, economic, and security points of view.
Multilateralism was another point of focus that the panelists discussed extensively. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Caspian countries are moving ahead with regional integration and connectivity. Speakers agreed that continued U.S. support and engagement would be critical to safeguarding the sovereignty and prosperity of the Caspian region countries while navigating through its complex web of regional and international relations and allow the region to function as its effective link to China and South Asia.
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About Caspian Policy Center
The Caspian Policy Center (CPC) is an independent, nonprofit research think tank based in Washington D.C. Economic, political, energy, and security issues of the Caspian region constitute the central research focus of the Center. CPC aims at becoming a primary research and debate platform in the Caspian region with relevant publications, events, projects, and media productions to nurture a comprehensive understanding of the intertwined affairs of the Caspian region.
With an inclusive, scholarly, and innovative approach, the Caspian Policy Center presents a platform where diverse voices from academia, business, and policy world from both the region and the nation’s capital interact to produce distinct ideas and insights to the outstanding issues of the Caspian region.
Learn more at caspianpolicy.org