MOSCOW, March 14: Russia cautioned the United States on Tuesday against raising its military presence in the strategic Caspian Sea region bordering Iran, saying buildup of forces from ‘outside would destabilise the region.

Russia ‘is opposed to the presence of third-party military forces on the Caspian, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at the start of a meeting among representatives of the five countries that border the sea: Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

His comments were seen as directed at the United States, which has stationed military advisers in Azerbaijan and is helping that country upgrade its naval forces and two powerful radar stations.

The ITAR-TASS news agency also quoted Mr Lavrov as saying that Russia was not calling for withdrawal of all military forces from the Caspian Sea region, which is known to hold vast oil and gas resources.

“Demilitarisation of the Caspian does not correspond to the realities of today,” Mr Lavrov said, adding that such a goal would lead to ‘the disarmament of Caspian states that are confronting new threats.

“Not creating threats from the outside due to the presence of military forces from third countries is the guarantee that there will no longer be any pretext for conflicts in the region,” Mr Lavrov said.

Disputes on delineation of borders and territorial waters among the Caspian states flared following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Little tangible progress has been made since then in resolving them despite regular meetings like that in Moscow on Tuesday.—AFP

Updated Mar 15, 2006 12:00am

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