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The Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea: Meaning and Consequences
01.03.2019 11:17

In August 2018, the leaders of Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan met in Aktau to resolve the issue of the legal status of the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest landlocked body of water.

The experts estimated that 19% of world oil reserves, 45% of world gas reserves, and 90% of sturgeon fish stock are concentrated in the Caspian area. Its natural resources are estimated in enormous amounts of money. The Caspian shelf, rich in oil and gas, according to the Energy Information Administration (the US independent agency, a member of the US federal statistical system, responsible for collection, analysis and release of information about energy and energy industry), contains up to 6.5 billion tons of proven and possible oil reserves and gas in oil equivalent, and 1.5 times more of the undiscovered ones.

Five states, whose shores are washed by the Caspian Sea, have been elaborating the Convention on the Legal Status of the Sea for more than twenty years, we can rightfully call the document historical. 

“Our summit has a truly epochal value,” said the Russian President Vladimir Putin. “The prepared Convention stipulates clear rules for the collective use of the Caspian Sea. A balanced international treaty has been created. It will replace the Soviet-Iranian agreements of 1921 and 1940.” According to the Russian leader, “it is important that the Convention regulates the issues of necessary divisions, shipping and fishing regimes. It fixes the principles of military and political interaction of the member states, and guarantees the use of the Caspian area for peaceful purposes only.”

The heads of five states finally agreed on how to divide the Caspian Sea. There were no particular disputes regarding the borders and territorial waters, as the boundaries were determined long ago. The water area was divided into internal, territorial and fishing waters according to general principles. At the same time, the Caspian water surface has been declared common. The parties decided to consider the Caspian Sea as a kind of inland body of water, a cross between a sea and a lake.

One of the main achievements of Russia and Iran was the fixation of the provision “On Prevention of the Presence of the Armed Forces of Extraregional States in the Caspian Area.” Pursuant to the clauses of the Convention, no NATO bases will appear on the Caspian Sea shores. The President of Iran Hassan Rouhani also noted the ban on sailing across the Caspian Sea for any vessels with flags of the countries not included in the “Caspian Five”.

“The convention guarantees the use of the Caspian area for peaceful purposes only,” confirmed Vladimir Putin. The signed document provides for the possibility to build the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline. Through such a pipeline, Turkmenistan can send export gas to Europe, thus becoming a rival to Russian fuel. Formally, now it is possible, but there is one nuance. A protocol for the projects’ environmental safety assessment was signed in Aktau as well. Pursuant to it, Russia and Iran can prevent the aforementioned.

After signing the document, Vladimir Putin announced the launch of the sea liner “Peter the Great” in 2019, on its board it will for the first time become possible to make cruise trips around the Caspian Sea. In addition, by 2025 it is planned to build a deep-water port near Kaspiysk city in Dagestan. The Russian leader proposed to extend the now existing moratorium on sturgeon fishing for a longer period, since the previous measures did not give much effect in restoring the population.

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