Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 146

Russia’s First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov held talks on July 28 and 29 in Baku with President Haidar Aliev and other Azerbaijani officials on defining the Caspian Sea’s legal status. Pastukhov called for dividing the sea floor among riparian states along a negotiable “median line,” while leaving the body of water, the surface, and the airspace as common property under joint jurisdiction.

Pastukhov dropped a long overdue hint as to what Moscow actually means by “modified median line” and “the fairness principle” in dividing the seabed. These formulae apparently imply drawing the line so as to leave on the Russian side certain oil and gas fields that had been developed or prospected during the Soviet period with all-Union investments.

In addition, Pastukhov expressed Moscow’s readiness to consider the creation of “territorial zones” of the riparian states up to a 10-mile, 12-mile, or 20-mile limit for customs control and possibly also for fishing purposes. However, shipping regulations and ecological protection would still be exercised collectively even in those national zones. Although billed as a concession, this proposal would seem to represents a step back from Moscow’s November 1996 and subsequent proposals. Those would have created 45-mile national zones while leaving the central part of the Caspian under a condominium regime.

The Russian official rejected outright the establishment of national borders in the Caspian Sea. Attempts to draw national borders may “lead to territorial disputes” and would make it impossible to “demilitarize” the Caspian, he warned. Azerbaijan, for its part, advocates national borders and demilitarization.

Pastukhov cited the July 6 Russian-Kazakh agreement as a possible model for the other states to follow in working out the Caspian’s status. That document, however, abounds in vague provisions subject to arbitrary interpretation and in formulae that require further definition. When signing it, Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Nursultan Nazarbaev described it as primarily a political document and conceded that it requires follow-up negotiations. (See the Monitor, July 9; and Fortnight in Review, July 10) Moreover, Pastukhov reaffirmed Moscow’s position that the Russian-Kazakh agreement does not affect the 1921 and 1940 Russian-Iranian agreements, which, in Moscow’s oft-stated view, continue to define the Caspian’s status until a new one is worked out. In fact and in law, however, that agreement has been superseded by the emergence of three internationally recognized countries on the Caspian littoral. Moreover, the Russian-Iranian agreements do not deal with mineral resources–the principal stake in the current negotiations.

The growing maze of overlapping and mutually inconsistent Russian proposals would create legal chaos in the Caspian Sea if they–or some of them–were ever to be adopted. They are likely to be politely ignored, and for that very reason may continue to multiply. Aliev and his senior foreign policy adviser, Vafa Guluzade, publicly reaffirmed during Pastukhov’s visit that Azerbaijan stands for division of the sea floor, water body and surface, and airspace into national sovereign sectors in accordance with international law and with the Azerbaijani constitution. Guluzade, moreover, dismissed as “pretexts” Pastukhov’s opposition to trans-Caspian pipelines on “environmental” grounds. That is “only an attempt to route all pipelines through Russia and Iran,” Guluzade remarked. He added that Russia itself had “inflicted immeasurable ecological damage on the Caspian Sea.” (Russian agencies, Turan, July 28 and 29)