Kazakhstan Advances Proposals On Caspian Legal Status

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 29

Kazakhstan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Kasymzhomart Tokaev presented a set of innovative proposals on June 9 in Astana regarding the legal status of the Caspian Sea. Addressing a session of the five riparian countries’ working group, which is charged with drafting a legal convention, Tokaev called for: clearly dividing the water surface, facilitating the laying of pipelines on the seabed, and regulating the presence of military forces in the Caspian Basin.

Existing bilateral agreements among riparian countries focus on dividing the seabed for national use, while leaving most of the water surface for common use, such as fishing and navigation. Tokaev’s proposal envisages leaving a central part of the sea open, while dividing most of the surface among the five countries into national fishing zones and territorial waters, whereby the outer borders of “territorial waters” would constitute state borders. In the decade-old negotiations on the status of the Caspian Sea, Russia has favored solutions that would involve only a narrow scope for sectors under national jurisdiction, and a very wide scope for common jurisdiction and use of waters — without legal restrictions on access by Russian naval forces throughout the sea.

Presenting Kazakhstan’s position on seabed use, Tokaev called for recognition of each country’s right to lay underwater cables or pipelines across its own seabed sector. By contrast, Russia and Iran want this issue to be regulated by binding agreements among riparian countries. In the absence of such agreements, Moscow and Tehran claim on ecological grounds the right to veto the laying of pipelines across other countries’ sectors. Thus Russia and Iran have opposed Western proposals for trans-Caspian pipelines, Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan for gas and Kazakhstan-Azerbaijan for oil. In particular, Russia calls for legal arrangements whereby such trans-Caspian pipelines would require approval by all riparian countries.

However, as Tokaev asserted in his presentation, “Getting environmental expertise on projects approved by all the Caspian littoral states seems to be difficult and time-consuming, hurting the economies of states that are interested in such projects.” This Kazakh proposal is one of several recent signals that Astana may favorably consider the proposed underwater oil pipeline to Baku, as part of the US-backed East-West Energy Corridor. Absent such a pipeline, Russia will permanently monopolize transit routes for Kazakhstan’s rapidly growing oil output. Thus, Moscow favors routing the giant future output from the Kashagan offshore field by undersea pipeline, feeding into the line to Novorossiisk in Russia. Moscow’s ecologically-based objections target only the westbound route, not the Russian route.

The third element in the Kazakh proposal envisages placing caps on military forces in the Caspian basin and monitoring their activities by multilateral agreements. Obliquely alluding to Russia’s overwhelming military superiority in the region, Tokaev conceded, “Demilitarization is an impracticable goal in the context of the existing situation.” He called for seeking a more balanced solution through five-sided control mechanisms (Interfax, June 10; Kazakhstan Today news agency web site, June 9).

This Kazakh proposal implicitly addresses the most recent restatement of Russia’s position, put forward by Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister and Presidential Envoy for Caspian Affairs Viktor Kalyuzhny. In statements on the sidelines of the annual Caspian Oil and Gas Conference, held last week in Baku, Kalyuzhny rejected the Azerbaijan-backed concept of demilitarization of the Caspian Basin; justified the existing “balance of forces;” and portrayed Russia’s military exercises there as “normal,” as well as a part of antiterrorism and antiproliferation efforts that benefit all five countries. Kalyuzhny’s idea of demilitarizing the Caspian Sea includes an agreement among the five riparian countries, banning any “non-regional forces” from entering the area. Kalyuzhny criticized Azerbaijan for opposing such a ban, adding, “We cannot put up with this situation for long. Those who wish to lay down the law in the Caspian should first take us into account. Russia might react by using all levers of influence and even military actions…I do not believe that some of our partners are sincere in calling for the arms to be scrapped.”

In his formal presentation to that conference, Kalyuzhny criticized those Caspian countries “in which as much as 80 percent of hydrocarbon resources were handed over to overseas interests,” dismissing the East-West Energy Corridor as politically motivated and economically nonviable. Kalyuzhny spoke in the presence of US envoy Steven Mann, who promotes the Kazakhstan-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey corridor. Kalyuzhny also criticized Azerbaijan for declining to increase the share of its oil exported to Novorossiisk. Kalyuzhny predicted losses and indebtedness for the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, warning, “those who pin their hopes on this pipeline to not to step on such rakes.” Kalyuzhny also proposed the formation of an interstate body, dubbed “Caspian Five,” a title reflecting CIS interstate bodies, for “regional interaction” without Western participants (Ekspress (Baku), Turan, RIA, June 1; Interfax, June 2).

Moscow proposes to have a draft convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea prepared for the meeting of heads of states of Caspian countries, tentatively scheduled to be held in early 2005 in Tehran. That appears to be a long shot.