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The Caspian Sea is the end of the world. It is where the mountainous chaos of the Caucasus, the desperation of Russia, the bleak arids of Central Asia and the highlands of Persia all combine. So cold in the winter that the northern third freezes, transport is onerous. So deep in the south that only the most sophisticated of deepwater operators can search for, much less produce, petroleum. Unique among the world’s major bodies of water, the Caspian is an obstacle against movement rather than a means of one.

Which makes the Russians want it. Badly. Unlike the Black or Baltic Seas, the Caspian is a barrier at the edge of the Russian zone of control. The Russians feel that if they can control the peoples to the sea’s west and east, they can better hold off against the cultural, economic and perhaps even military onslaught that they fear is a scant few years away.

Other countries – most notably Turkey, Iran and Uzbekistan – have a different view.

For more on how the Caspian, the Caucasus and Central Asia are about to become a battle royale, see Chapter 10 of The Accidental Superpower.