QUESTION MARKS MULTIPLY OVER RUSSIAN PLAN TO DIVIDE CASPIAN SEA.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 125

Russia’s cabinet of ministers yesterday finalized, and forwarded to President Boris Yeltsin for approval, a draft agreement with Kazakhstan on dividing the Caspian Sea. The document is revealingly titled, “On the delimitation of the sea bottom in the northern Caspian Sea for ensuring sovereign rights to the use of mineral resources.” It envisages delimitation “along the median line, modified by mutual agreement in accordance with the fairness principle.” Oil and gas fields that end up divided by the “modified median line” would fall under common jurisdiction. Russia and Kazakhstan would hold the “exclusive rights to prospect and develop those deposits jointly.” The delimitation would apply only to the sea bottom, not to the water body or its surface. (Russian agencies, June 29)

The document, as reported, marks a further step by Russia away from the principle of five-country jurisdiction over the Caspian Sea and toward its division. Common jurisdiction is now supported (in theory at least) only by Iran. However, confining the sovereign rights only to the sea bottom is a far cry from accepting the division of the Caspian Sea into national sectors according to international law. The reports on the Russian draft do not mention the term “sector.” Moreover, the “fairness principle” is apparently not defined, and can open the door to arbitrary and restrictive interpretations. Under this document, international companies can be excluded from the development of mineral deposits that happen to be bisected by the Russian-Kazakh median line.

Also yesterday, the Kremlin announced that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev will hold talks with Yeltsin in Moscow on July 6 and 7. The Russian side expects to sign at least some of the agreements that were due for signing by the two presidents during Yeltsin’s visit to Kazakhstan. (Itar-Tass, June 29) That visit, scheduled for June 30-July 3, was canceled at the last moment by the Kremlin amid signs of differences on some major issues. Delimitation in the Caspian Sea was mentioned among those unresolved issues (see the Monitor, June 26) — VS

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