Division of Seabed Resources, Rich in Oil and Gas, Remains Contentious
Leaders of the Caspian Sea littoral states (Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan) held the 4th Caspian Summit in the Russian city of Astrakhan. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and creation of independent states of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, the five countries have been unable to strike a deal on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, and on Monday failed again to reach an agreement. Discoveries of vast underwater oil and gas deposits in Caspian, however, have made the division of seabed resources the key element in any treaty defining its legal status, but there is no consensus on a convention.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the end of the summit that considerable progress had been made on the convention on the Caspian legal status, but offered no details. The summiteers, however, said they agreed to study a number of Caspian-centric projects, high among them constructing railways to connect the key Caspian ports.
“The work on preparing the convention on the Caspian Sea legal status is to be completed. I’m confident that we’ll be able to agree on the provisions that have not been coordinated yet and adopt the convention at the next summit,” Putin said. The Next meeting will be held in Kazakhstan at an unspecified date. (ITAR-TASS, 29 September)
The Russo-Persian treaty of 1921 and Soviet-Iranian treaty of 1940 accept equality between the two countries. Equal right of navigation was granted to Persia in 1921, and the 1940 treaty regulates fishery, navigation, and commerce in the Caspian.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union and in the absence of a treaty, Russia has signed bilateral agreements with Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan dividing the seabed in northern Caspian Sea on the basis of modified median line (MML). If the MML principle were to be applied to all five littoral states, Kazakhstan, which has the longest coastline, gets 30 percent of seabed resources, which also contains more than half the Caspian Sea’s oil and gas deposits. Russia and Azerbaijan get almost 20 percent each, Turkmenistan gets 17 percent, and Iran ends up with only 13 percent. It is believe that Iranian section would contain the least amount of oil and gas.
Iran has opposed such division and instead has called for equality of all five countries surrounding a geographic lake, not a sea; hence it has proposed that the seabed resources be divided in five equal shares of 20 percent each.
Top: Map of the Caspian Sea region
Bottom photo: The 4th Caspian Summit: Presidents Ibrahim Aliyev of Azerbaijan, Hassan Rouhani of Iran, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan, and Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov of Turkmenistan. (ITAR-TASS/Radio Farda)