Caspian leaders fudge legal status 

Caspian leaders fudge legal status 

Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan have agreed on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, helping to resolve 22 years of dispute to unlock large quantities of gas and oil. 

The leaders’ summit in the coastal Kazakh city of Aktau (pictured) agreed to treat the planet’s largest inland body of water as a lake and a sea at the same time.

The Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea establishes a formula for dividing its resources and prevents other powers, particularly Nato and China, from setting up a military presence in the region.

Defining it as a lake would mean the Caspian’s reserves would be divided equally among the five states but if it was defined as a sea then each state gets a share in proportion to the length of its coastline.

There are going to be different rules applied to the surface of the water and seabed. 

But because the deal does not define the Caspian as a lake, Iran, which has the shortest coastline, is viewed as a potential loser. It has the saltiest and deepest section of the Caspian with only around 10 per cent of its fossil fuels. 

The Caspian basin is estimated to have reserves of 48 billion barrels of oil, more than Nigeria or the US, and 8.3 trillion cubic metres of natural gas, which is roughly equivalent to Saudi Arabian reserves.

Iranians on social media accused the Tehran government of “selling off” the Caspian Sea.

Iran, under political and economic pressure from Donald Trump, might see the benefit of securing the agreement that bars any armed presence on the Caspian other than that of the five littoral states.

Had the Caspian been defined as a lake, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, with the largest fossil-fuel assets, stood to lose out.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani said delimitation of the Caspian remained an issue for Iran and further talks would be needed to guarantee environmental safety. 

Rohani raised the potential for railway connections from the eastern and western sides of the Caspian through Iran to the Persian Gulf. 

The Caspian is an important source of caviar with 1kg worth up to US$25,000.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the independence of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, Iran has insisted on either dividing the sea into five equal parts or jointly developing all of its resources.

None of the neighbours agreed to those proposals and Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have effectively split the northern Caspian between them using median lines.

Azerbaijan has still to agree on how to divide fossil-fuel fields with Iran and Turkmenistan, including the Kapaz/Serdar field with reserves of about 620 million barrels of oil.

The three states have tried to develop the disputed fields while sometimes using their navies to repel contractors hired by the other countries.


Aktau. The Caspian’s status has been in undecided since the fall of the Soviet Union. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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