In late April, a regular meeting of the Special Working Group (JWG) to determine the status of the Caspian Sea at the level of deputy foreign ministers of Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Iran will be held in Ashgabat. Such a technical format of the Caspian Five meeting is intended to find common points between the conflicting positions of the parties on the sea issue.
On the eve of the meeting, the observers do not expect serious breakthroughs in the negotiation process, given the number of outstanding issues and the heated situation around Iran’s nuclear program. But the interest in the next meeting of the AWG is nevertheless present and caused, above all, by the “warming” of the position of Turkmenistan. President Gurbanuly Berdymukhammedov signed a decree on the establishment of the Interdepartmental Commission of Turkmenistan on the Caspian Sea, previously the State Enterprise was involved in the problems of the sea. It is not yet clear whether the change of the position of the republic will follow the renaming of the structure responsible for the negotiations. The initiators of the meeting, representatives of Azerbaijan, who have a lot of territorial disputes with Turkmenistan that have not been resolved since the times of Saparmurat Niyazov, express hopes of speeding up further negotiations. Recall that due to disagreements over the disputed Khazar and Osman fields (in the Azeri version of Azeri and Chirag), which Azerbaijan began to develop with the participation of foreign investors, these two former Soviet republics even interrupted for a while diplomatic relations.
Twenty difficult encounters
By April 2007, twenty meetings of the AWG on the definition of the legal status of the Caspian Sea had already passed. The main goal of the group’s work is to coordinate the positions of five Caspian countries on the legal status of the Caspian Sea and the regime for its use. The activity of the group is designed to work out the exclusive economic zone of the Caspian, suitable for everyone, the zone of free navigation, the responsibility of the parties for the deterioration of the ecological situation, and solve the problem of militarization of the Caspian. One of the main successes of the JWG to date has been the signing in November 2003 of the “Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea”. By August 11, 2006, the parties ratified the document and the convention entered into force.
The problem of separation of the Caspian Sea and its resources has been and remains a stumbling block in relations between the Caspian countries. After the collapse of the USSR, Russia and Iran, as the successors of the Soviet-Iranian agreements of 1921 and 1940, insisted on sharing the sea and its resources, since under these agreements the Caspian Sea was a closed lake. But for the young states of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, the development of the hydrocarbon resources of the Caspian Sea was hardly the main condition for the formation of independence. Therefore, they were interested in dividing the sea into national sectors. Ultimately, the active actions of the new independent countries, and above all, of Azerbaijan, led to a change in the Russian position on the division of the Caspian Sea. Thus, in the course of bilateral and trilateral negotiations between Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, by 2003, they were able to agree on the division of the bottom of the Northern Caspian Sea along a modified median line. Moreover, according to the existing agreements, the sea surface remains in common ownership.
Problem of our children
In determining the legal status of the Caspian Sea, difficulties remain with the division of the southern part of the sea. There are serious differences between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Iran over several border fields, some of which are already under development by Azerbaijan. Some contradictions that relate to Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan can be resolved in the near future. The parties regularly express a desire for this at the highest level. The main difficulty lies in the position of Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) still insists that each country of the “Caspian Five” should receive exactly twenty percent of the sea’s resources. It is clear why Iran chose this position: in the case of sectoral division, it will get only 14% of the water area with the most modest reserves of oil and gas. It is not clear how this can be accomplished, when more than ten years has been active work on the development of the natural resources of the Caspian Sea, billions of dollars have been invested in their development.
In addition to the difficulties with the territorial division, there is a lot of disagreement over the use of the Caspian Sea. To be or not to be in the Caspian to military contingents of third countries, whether it will be possible to build trans-Caspian gas and oil pipelines, how much of the water area can be used for transport shipping, etc. All these issues, one way or another, are connected with the national interests of the Caspian littoral countries, and, what is even more aggravating the situation, with the interests of the United States, China, Turkey, the EU countries. Therefore, the problem of settling the status of the Caspian has long since moved from the legal to the political plane. This seriously hampers the search for consensus on the problem of the sea. As experts on the Caspian issue say with sadness, “we hope that the convention on the legal status of the sea will be adopted by our children.”
In the meantime, while the political game is taking place in the Caspian, the environmental situation continues to deteriorate. According to the latest data, in the Kazakhstan sector of the Caspian Sea a massive death of seals occurred. According to environmentalists' estimates, more than two hundred mammals were found dead on the coast of the Atyrau region of Kazakhstan, but no one took responsibility for what was happening a year ago, when the massive death of sturgeon and seals was also recorded.
The beginning of the codification of the Caspian can be considered the year 1569, when as a result of the first Russian-Turkish war the northern coast of the sea became part of Russia. The problem of the political and legal status of the Caspian Sea in the modern sense arose after the “Persian campaign” of Peter I (1722/23) and the Russian-Persian wars (1804-1813, 1826-1828). The Petersburg (1723), Resht (1729), Gulustani (1813) and Turkmanchay (1828) tracts that followed these wars gave Russia the exclusive right to have a navy in the Caspian Sea, Persia retained the right only to commercial shipping . This meant complete subordination of the Caspian Sea to Russian jurisdiction or, in other words, the Caspian was an inland water body of Russia.
Soviet Russia renounced monopoly rights to the Caspian and the Soviet-Iranian treaties of 1921, 1935, and 1940 provided equal and exclusive rights for the implementation of the maritime activities of the USSR and Iran. The extension of the Soviet-Iranian treaties to the post-Soviet Caspian means: a) Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Azerbaijan have sovereign rights to the 10-mile fishing zone, and all of them have equal rights to the resources of the rest of the sea; b) The Caspian Sea is closed to states that do not have natural access to its basin in the use of its space and resources.