The summit of the five littoral states of the Caspian Sea was held in the Iranian capital Tehran on October 16. The first Caspian summit took place April 2002 in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. It was an attempt by Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan to find a legal status for the Caspian Sea. However, the attempt fell through. The disagreements proved to be stronger them expected – they even prevented the littoral sates from maintaining a regular dialogue.
Five years had been gone before the second summit took place. Finding a way to smooth over the differences in opinions was not high on the agenda, by and large. The need of Russia to raise stakes in Russia-U.S. dialogue relating to Iran’s controversial nuclear program and U.S. missile defense plans was the main reason behind the summit. A division of the Caspian Sea is the main issue facing the region. Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan prefer a division of the seabed according to the coastal length of each country, whereas Iran and Turkmenistan, which have shorter coastlines, insist that each country be entitled to an equal share of the Caspian Sea. In fact, Russia is quite happy with the existing division regulations applicable to the northern part of the Caspian. The Kremlin aims to quickly reach an agreement on the basis of status quo.
“We could reach an agreement on a division of the seabed for subsurface management without waiting for a general convention on the legal status for the Caspian. We could make use of a five-side framework,” President Putin was quoted as saying at the summit. Turkmenistan is strongly opposed to the plan. Turkmen President Berdymukhamedov said that his country considered unacceptable the practice of unilateral actions in the Caspian, especially with regard to the development of oil fields in the areas of the sea uncovered by agreements between interested parties.
Russia is still in disagreement with Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan on the issue of the size of a national coastline zone. “Russia can only agree to a 15-mile coastal zone that includes an economic zone as well. That’s the farthest Russia can go,” said a high-ranking source in the Russian delegation, in an interview to Vedomosti newspaper. Azerbaijan proposed to enlarge the total area of a coastal zone up to 40-45 miles, the source added. President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan suggested approving the provisions for a 25-mile economic zone.
Working out a new quota distribution system for sturgeon fishing in the Caspian Sea is yet another issue that has to be resolved. Under the current system, Iran’s quota is 45 percent; Russia’s quota is 27 percent. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan called for the revision of the current quota system. “Kazakhstan’s quota is not in line with the realities of our time,” Kazakh President Nazarbayev said. “The agreement between Iran and the former Soviet Union are now history. There’re five independent states around the Caspian Sea these days,” Nazarbayev added.
Taking into account all the above, it is safe to say that the disagreements between the Caspian states are quite fundamental. Russia should not try to settle the disagreements at the risk of causing damage to its relations with strategically important countries. Building a new foundation for a dialogue is more important for Russia. Russia’s proposal to form a new economic organization involving the Caspian states is one of the most important results of the summit. The move may help solidify and increase Russia’s sway in the Caspian region. Russia has also put forward a proposal (supported by Kazakhstan) to coordinate the Caspian pipeline routes with all the Caspian states. Other integration projects unveiled by Russia at the summit include: the formation of a naval operational coordination force, the construction of an additional canal to connect the Caspian with the Black Sea and Azov Sea basin. However, all the above projects may be shelved as Russia and the United States continue to step up competition for geopolitical influence on the countries of the former Soviet Union. Besides, the Caspian states have different political leanings, and have yet to resolve the major problems relating to the division of the sea.
On the other hand, the signing of a declaration at the end of the summit is Russia’s greatest achievement. The declaration virtually binds the littoral states to a non-aggression commitment and warns the outsiders to refrain from using the Caspian basin for military operations.
Translated by Guerman Grachev
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