Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 175

On September 20, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement challenging the right of Turkmenistan to its national sector in the Caspian Sea–clearly a reaction to Turkmen President Saparmurat Niazov’s decree, just published in the official newspaper Neytralny Turkmenistan, on setting up a national service for the development of the Turkmen Sector of the Caspian Sea.

The decree defines that sector as an “inalienable part of the territory of Turkmenistan” and empowers the service to issue fishing licenses, navigation permits and other types of authorization for the development and use of the waters and natural resources in the Turkmen sector.

Moscow’s statement reaffirms the old stance that Russia “will not recognize the legality of attempts by some Caspian states to extend their sovereignty over parts of the Caspian under the pretext of [creating] national sectors…. Such attempts run counter to the Soviet-Iranian treaties of 1921 and 1940.” The document portrays sectoral division of the Caspian as interference with the freedom of navigation and fishing, and attaches inverted commas or the qualifier “so-called” to the term national sector. The statement reserves for Russia the right to take unilaterally “adequate measures for ensuring observance of the inviolable principles of freedom of navigation and fishing in the Caspian.” It does not spell out what those measures might be (Itar-Tass, September 21).

In Moscow’s view, its two treaties with Tehran continue to determine the legal status of the Caspian Sea, pending a renegotiation of that status. Those treaties make no provision for national sectors. Neither do they take Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan into account, because these were not independent countries when the treaties were drawn, but were ruled by Soviet Russia in 1921 and parts of the USSR in 1940. The reference in the September 20 statement to “some Caspian states” which created national sectors–not recognized by Moscow–is aimed at Azerbaijan. Moscow was unable to keep Baku from establishing its own sector of the sea, on the basis of the internationally recognized principle of dividing the water surface, the water body and the seabed. Russia is unlikely, short of using heavy pressure, to stop Turkmenistan from following the Azerbaijani precedent. Kazakhstan agrees in principle to the division of the seabed in the northern part of the Caspian Sea. Moscow’s position is familiar, but the language of its latest statement represents a return to the harsh tone of earlier years.

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