The status of the Caspian Sea: a step forward, two steps in place
2017 December 25 ( Monday ) 16:11:08
Perhaps the most significant event in regional geopolitics was the final coordination of the legal status of the Caspian Sea by the Foreign Ministers of the five Caspian states (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Russia, Turkmenistan) on December 5. The agreement on the Convention of the legal status will be offered for signing to heads of the states at the summit of the highest level in Astana in July 2018.
MFAs are few that report details of the future agreement, but one thing is certain for sure that the parties finally agreed on the jurisdiction of the coastal states in the Caspian Sea: the national sovereignty of the sides will extend over the coastal sea area within 15 nautical miles, on the 10-mile the exclusive right of each party to extract aquatic biological resources will be distributed to the zone.
It also became known that the parties agreed not to allow the deployment of military forces and infrastructures of third countries in the Caspian.
"We have found solutions to all the open key issues that have been left open, the text of the convention is almost ready," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, expressing hope that the document will be adopted at the next summit.
If the planned convention is signed, it will mean that the current surface borders, which were determined from the adjacent land borders of the Caspian countries to the middle line, will narrow to 25 km from the shoreline. In this case, the rest of the water part becomes a common use area, which will require the coordination of questions about fishing, shipping and naval shipments. Just the same about these no less important issues, the parties did not make statements.
Lavrov only added that the text of the agreement will be finalized.
The problem of the legal status of the Caspian Sea arose immediately after the fall of the USSR. To date, four countries, with the exception of Iran, have agreed and signed a bilateral agreement on this matter on delineation of the Caspian seabed from adjacent coastal borders to the middle line. It is another matter that Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan disagree on the issue of determining the middle line in connection with the disputed oil and gas field in the middle of the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan was the first, without waiting for the definition of the legal status of the sea, began developing deposits with Western companies in 1994. After that, Kazakhstan and Russia moved into the sea. Iran insisted initially on dividing the Caspian into five equal parts, but then began to insist on the approach from continuing the trajectory of the line of land borders in the sea to the middle line, which doubled its current right to the bowels of the sea.
Also, the issue of laying submarine pipelines remains an important unresolved issue. For example, Turkmenistan believes that this should be the exclusive right of those coastal states that have decided to connect their shores with an underwater pipeline. Starting from 2014, namely, from the Astrakhan summit of the heads of the Caspian countries, the parties intensified the issue of resolving the legal status for a number of reasons:
- Decrease in the degree of influence of the oil and gas factor due to the fall in oil prices and insignificant hydrocarbon reserves in the Russian and Iranian sectors of the sea. Both countries today are more keen on developing and exploiting their huge deposits in Siberia and the Persian Gulf.
- The risk of a possible real military presence of NATO in the Caspian Sea, which can provide the American program "Caspian Guard" (Caspian Guard), aimed at combating terrorism and the like.
- The entry into force of the global East-West, North-South transport corridors, which in their significance are much more attractive than oil and the problem of delineation of territorial waters. In fact, the issue of using the Caspian Sea as a joint transport hub is on the agenda.
To a large extent, the unrestricted arms race in the Caspian, which was asked by the unresolved issue of the legal status and mutual claims to underground and above-water resources, also moves towards a compromise. For the past 15 years, all countries in the region have been building up their military presence at sea, and the continuation of this militarization could lead to undesirable consequences.