Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 191

Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan signed on September 10 in Astana a bilateral Declaration on Cooperation in the Caspian Sea. The Declaration constitutes a joint Russian-Kazakh proposal for a Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea, to be submitted to the other three countries for their consideration. In his remarks on the occasion, Putin disclaimed any intent to create a “Russian-Kazakh pressure group” which would “bear down on other [Caspian] countries” to impose its views. That remark may be taken in the region as an attempt by Putin to distance himself from his envoy Viktor Kalyuzhny, whose recent comments on the Caspian Sea’s legal status came across as pressure (see below).

The Putin-Nazarbaev document seems, however, only slightly less contentious. It proposes that the other three coastal countries accept the principles for offshore sector delimitation embodied in bilateral Russian-Kazakh agreements. Those agreements confine the sectoral division to the seabed only, leaving the water body and water surface in “common use.” And they introduce a vaguely defined criterion–the “modified median line”–for adjudicating mineral deposits that straddle the actual median line. The combination of seabed division and water in common use is a hybrid unacceptable to Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, however. Both countries stand for full-fledged division of the seabed, the water body and water surface into national sovereign sectors.

Iran has already objected to the Russian-Kazakh approach because it contradicts both of Iran’s options. Those are: either division of the seabed, water body and water surface (provided that each of the five littoral countries receives 20 percent of the Caspian Sea’s total area) or, alternatively, no division at all, “common use” of everything and an agreement to recognize the Caspian as a lake (and therefore indivisible). Either way, Iran expects to gain in terms of shipping, fishing and mineral exploration rights, continental shelf area and access to probable oil and gas deposits. As things now stand, Iran’s portion of the Caspian Sea is the smallest among the five and the poorest or second poorest in terms of proven mineral reserves.

As a sop to Iran, the Russian-Kazakh document asserts that the Caspian Sea’s legal status continues to be governed by the 1921 and 1940 treaties between Moscow and Tehran, pending the conclusion of a new treaty among the five countries. Tehran, however, points out that those treaties did not deal with the modern issues related to minerals and seabed, but focused on shipping and fishing and are in many ways inapplicable of little relevance at present.

Finally, the Putin-Nazarbaev document backtracks on a pet idea of Putin and Kalyuzhny’s–namely, to create a Caspian Strategic-Development Center, from which Western countries would be barred. The five Caspian countries were supposed to delegate regulatory and oversight powers regarding oil and gas exploration and extraction, shipping, fishing, security and environmental protection to that Center. From all those functions, only the environmental is mentioned in the published version of the Putin-Nazarbaev Declaration. The scheme had found no takers since Kalyuzhny first aired it in May, attributing it to Putin.

Kalyuzhny, deputy foreign affairs minister and a presidential envoy for Caspian issues, had pushed the Strategic-Development Center scheme in a series of statements in Moscow and a tour of Caspian countries’ capitals in late September and early October. As regards the center, Kalyuzhny insisted that “we must concentrate everything in just a few hands.” As regards “disputable” offshore oil and gas fields, he suggested that they should be reserved for the “common use” of all five countries. The idea–not a new one–is to give Russia a piece of the action in the Turkmen, Azerbaijani and Kazakh sectors, which are far richer than Russia’s and in which most potentially “disputable” fields are located.

At one point, Kalyuzhny warned Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan that “the position of some countries, aiming for sectoral division of the Caspian, is unacceptable as it provokes drawing boundaries on the high seas and creating hotbeds of conflicts.” Perhaps in order to smooth the ruffled feathers, Kalyuzhny next declared that “President Haidar Aliev [of Azerbaijan] has agreed with Russia’s stance on the division of the Caspian”–a crass inaccuracy. A spokesman for Aliev replied that “there is no question of accepting the Russian position.”

Turkmenistan’s presidential envoy for Caspian issues, Boris Shikhumradov, reacted drastically. He remarked that Kalyuzhny’s proposals have pushed the negotiations back by some seven or eight years, that “talk about the Caspian Strategic-Development Center is pointless and has no future whatsoever,” and that the two Soviet-Iranian treaties have lapsed for the obvious reason that the Soviet Union no longer exists (Azadlyg, IRNA, Dow Jones Newswires, Itar-Tass, October 4-5, 10-11).