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stan countries

The so called “Stan Countries” (where “stan” is a Persian suffix for “the land of...”; it is usually preceded by the name of an ethnic group: for example Tajikistan is the “land of the Tajik”) are the following countries.

  • Kazakhstan (capital Astana), 16 million inhabitants;

  • Turkmenistan (capital Asgabat), 5 million inhabitants;

  • Uzbekistan (capital Tashkent), 27 million inhabitants;

  • Kyrgyzstan (capital Bishkek), 5.5 million inhabitants;

  • Tajikistan (capital Dushanbe), 7.5 million inhabitans.

These are all countries that became part of the Soviet Socialist Republics in 1924 and 1925 and then became part of the Soviet Union (founded on December 31 1922). They were part of the union for 69 years until December 25 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed.

The “Stan Countries” represent, together with the Caucasus, a strategic area for Russia in Central Asia.

Before its collapse and during the Cold War, the Soviet Union was formed by 15 Republics:

  • the four founding Republics of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Transcaucasian Republic (the latter dissolved in 1936 and was split into Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia);

  • the five “Stan Countries”;

  • Moldova;

  • the three Baltic Republics (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania).

We should also consider in this picture the so-called “satellite countries” in Eastern Europe that were linked to the Soviet Union by the Warsaw Pact (May 14 1955).

Following the Cold War, the Perestroika (literally the restructuring) lead by Mikhail Gorbachev (who resigned in December 1991) and the decade of rule by Boris Yeltsin, power in Russia has been handled by Vladimir Putin. Since 2000 and through “legitimate” elections, Putin has tried to reconstitute the dignity and role of the Russian Federation in a context of internal and international political turmoil.

gorbachev yeltsin putin etc

We will refer to the two main areas of Russian strategic interest in the Caucasus and the “Stan Countries”. In particular:

a. the post Soviet Union Caucasus was divided along the homonym mountain ridge into Northern Caucasus, belonging to Russia, and Southern Caucasus, belonging to Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Besides from the ethnic issues (like Ossetia split between Russia and Georgia), Russia's economic interests (such as energy sources and their pipelines running through Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, and directed to Europe) have privileged a country with a Muslim majority such as Azerbaijan, and not Armenia, that like Moscow is Christian-Orthodox.

Another relevant conflict in the region is in the Nagorno-Karabakh, a landlocked portion of Azerbaijan inhabited by an Armenian minority.

b. the “Stan Countries” have been enticed – and still are – by Russia for their energy sources. This has been done through military and security cooperation deals and alliances. But these countries still privilege a self-management of their own resources.

In order to introduce the issue of Russian energetic resources, we should first take a look at where Italy draws its supplies from in what is commonly labelled as the “Gas War”. The most recent available data shows that Italy:

  • produces : 13 billion cubic meters of gas yearly;

  • needs : 81 billion cubic meters of gas yearly.

Overall, Italy imports 68 billion cubic meters of gas from the following countries (data from 2011):

  • Russia (Trans-Austria Gas-TAG pipeline): 24 bln;

  • Netherlands/Norway (Transitgas pipeline): 16 bln;

  • Algeria (Transmed pipeline): 20 bln;

  • Libya (“Green Stream” pipeline): 8 bln.

Italy has recently sealed a deal with Azerbaijan for the supply of 10 bln cubic meters of gas per year from the “Shah Deniz II” gas field channelled through the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). The supply can be increased to 20 bln cubic meters.

The TAP pipeline passes through Greece, Albania and the Adriatic Sea to the coast of the Italian southern region of Salento. Italy has thus become the entry point in Europe for Caucasian gas.

Overall, European gas supply is subject to a series of constraints:

  • an excessive dependence of European countries from Russia, at least according to the United States;

  • the Russia/Ukraine controversies. The latter owns the pipelines that go through its territory and has rented to Russia a number of military bases – including the well known base of Sevastopol on the Black Sea – in exchange for a reduction in the price of gas supplies. On the other hand, Russia is pushing Ukrainian gas prices to market levels and is building two pipelines that will circumvent Ukraine, the North Stream and the South Stream pipelines. A third pipeline running through Anatolya, known as Nabucco, is being funded with the help of the United States to put an end to Russian monopoly in the region. The Nabucco pipeline is facing supply problems since most of the gas fields have already been taken by Chinese competition and by its ever increasing “thirst” for energy supplies.

  • The deposits in the Arctic Ocean face a number of controversies and are claimed by the countries facing the Arctic Circle.

  • Interference over the control of recently discovered gas fields (the Italy/France competition over Libyan reserves; the contrast between Israel and Turkey for the Eastern Mediterranean deposits known as “Aphrodite” and “Leviathan” etc.).

south stream nabucco

All of the above have pushed Russia in the attempt of extending its reach to Central Asian deposits and in sealing a number of deals with the Stan countries, and in particular with those with the largest potential energy reserves (oil, gas and so forth) as spelled out in the following table:






Cubic meters

1000 t




(16 mln)

20.2 bln






(5 mln)

59.5 bln






(27 mln)

62.9 bln






(5,5 mln)

12.5 mln






(7,5 mln)

40 mln





* te = thermoelectric plants

** h = hydroelectric plants

The table allows the following assessments:

  • the yearly gas production of the first three Stan countries is in billion cubic meters. This means there is room for exports. The two remaining countries produce by the millions, an amount insufficient even for domestic supplies.

  • the same can be said for the production of oil;

  • the production of electric energy is relevant in those countries utilizing hydroelectric plants (Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan). Their lack of resources has been compensated by their geographic position and by the proximity to mountains and glaciers. The two remaining countries have enough gas and oil to feed thermoelectric plants for their electric production.