Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 90

True to its reputation for erratic behavior, Turkmenistan–that is, President Saparmurat Niazov–is staking out positions that irritate other Caspian countries in one way or another. Turkmenistan proposes dividing the Caspian Sea into national sectors, placing not only the seabed but also the waters and airspace under the national jurisdiction of each country. Turkmenistan would only leave a small, central part of the sea free for maritime traffic. This position runs counter to Moscow’s in every aspect. It implicitly supports Iran’s wish to limit the freedom of action of Russia’s naval forces in the Caspian Sea. Ashgabat’s position should also please Azerbaijan, which has from the outset favored division into fully sovereign national sectors.

However, Turkmenistan insists on defining a “median line” that would leave some major Azerbaijani offshore oilfields within the Turkmen sector. Based on its tendentious concept of a median line, Turkmenistan lays claim to the whole Kapaz oilfield (Turkmen name: Serdar), which is bisected by the geographic median line between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, and was historically explored by Azerbaijan and contracted out by the latter as well. Based on that same concept, Ashgabat lays claim also to parts of Azerbaijan’s three offshore oilfields–Chirag-Azeri-Guneshli–which form the “deal of the century” contract area, and which are slated to feed the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline. While the powerful international consortium is brushing aside Turkmenistan’s outlandish claim to parts of the contract area, Russian companies have pulled out of the Kapaz project, bringing it to a complete halt.

At present, Turkmenistan continues negotiating with Azerbaijan on how to draw the median line. At the same time, Ashgabat threatens legal action at the United Nations or in international courts, hoping to validate its territorial claims and possibly to settle for some hefty compensation. Niazov said more than once that Caspian waters around oilfields “smell of blood,” rather than oil. This is pure bluff on Niazov’s part, but Russian officially controlled media are playing it up in order to make Azerbaijan feel vulnerable and Western investors uneasy. The same Russian media keep rehashing a story that Turkmenistan is building a naval force with twenty cutters acquired from Ukraine. The real number is two small coastal guard boats, ordered last year by Turkmenistan from Ukraine. The United States itself has delivered one small coastal guard boat to Turkmenistan to help it police its own waters.

Turkmenistan, meanwhile, insists in its own interest that Soviet-era boundaries in the Caspian Sea be preserved. Its position implicitly opposes that of Iran while favoring, also implicitly, Azerbaijan in the dispute over the Alov-Sharg-Araz offshore oilfields. Iran claims those Azerbaijani oilfields, which are situated clearly on Azerbaijan’s side of the former Soviet-Iranian border. As a further irritant to Iran, Ashgabat opposes the idea of a “common sea” which both Iran and Russia espouse, albeit with different meanings attached.

In his most serious challenge to Russia at the Caspian summit and since, Niazov has come out publicly against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent proposal for a Central Asian/Caspian “alliance” of natural gas producing countries–the would-be “OPEC for gas” under Russian control. Turkmenistan, whose gas export potential matches Russia’s, forms the main target of Putin’s proposal. Having initially ignored it, Niazov is now rejecting it as highly detrimental to Turkmenistan’s interests. Azerbaijan, too, has come out against that scheme in the wake of the Caspian summit (Roundup based on Turkmen and international news agency reporting, April 28-30, May 1-6; see the Monitor, January 24, April 19, 30).

The Monitor is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation. It is researched and written under the direction of senior analysts Jonas Bernstein, Vladimir Socor, Stephen Foye, and analysts Ilya Malyakin, Oleg Varfolomeyev and Ilias Bogatyrev. If you have any questions regarding the content of the Monitor, please contact the foundation. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at pubs@jamestown.org, by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4516 43rd Street NW, Washington DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of the Monitor is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation Site Maintenance by Johnny Flash Productions