Author: Rasim MUSABAYOV, Member of Parliament, political scientist
On August 12, 2018, Presidents of Kazakhstan, Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Iran took part at the fifth summit of the Caspian states held in Aktau, Kazakhstan. Important result of the summit was the adoption of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea, as well as the signing of a number of local agreements and protocols.
The event was preceded by a long and painstaking work, which took more than 20 years, during which 52 meetings of a special group composed of special representatives of the Caspian countries, 12 meetings of foreign ministers, and four summits with the participation of heads of state took place. The adopted agreements regulate various aspects of the Caspian issues. The constructive position of politicians, diplomats and experts allowed ultimately reaching a mutually acceptable compromise on the text of the basic agreement. In addition to the convention, presidents signed a number of protocols on cooperation in the field of combating organized crime in the Caspian Sea; cooperation between border agencies, as well as agreements between the governments of the Caspian states on trade and economic cooperation; in the field of transport; on the prevention of incidents in the Caspian Sea.
In their speeches, all the presidents of the littoral states highly appreciated the convention, calling the event historic and landmark. President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, described the adopted document as a kind of "Constitution of the Caspian Sea", urging to supplement it with a special agreement on confidence-building measures in the military sphere. Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested the establishment of the Economic Forum of the Caspian Five to further elaborate on the adopted agreements. The speeches of the presidents of Iran and Turkmenistan also reflected a constructive spirit of the summit.
President Ilham Aliyev highly appreciated the level of cooperation, trust and interaction between the Caspian states. Regarding the environmental issues, he stressed that all oil and gas operations carried out by Azerbaijan in the period of independence are in line with international ISO standards. The Azerbaijani leader highlighted the importance of the Caspian for transport in the context of regional infrastructure projects currently implemented in Azerbaijan. As an example, he mentioned the East-West corridor, within which Azerbaijan not only provided transit services to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, but also linked the railways of Asia and Europe. The current North-South railway transport corridor also has a great potential, which is planned to conduct railway transit between Iran and Russia via Azerbaijan, and in the future to link India and Pakistan with Northern Europe.
The Caspian states developed a special legal status for the Caspian Sea, which takes into account its qualities both as a sea and as a lake. At the same time, many provisions of the UN Maritime Convention have been adapted and applied.
Close attention was paid to the provisions concerning the military presence of non-Caspian states, as well as the construction of trans-Caspian pipelines. It is known that Moscow and Tehran categorically opposed both. Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have welcomed the wishes of Russia and Iran on the issue of banning military presence and the presence of military bases of non-Caspian states, who in turn mitigated their objections regarding the construction of trans-Caspian pipelines.
The Convention adopted in Aktau prohibits the military presence of non-littoral states in the Caspian. This should remove fears of Russia and Iran, whose armed forces dominate the Caspian Sea basin, in the prospect of the emergence of US and NATO military infrastructure there. As for trans-Caspian pipelines, according to the convention, it is the prerogative of the states whose sectors they do and will cross. However, in terms of environmental safety, any major pipeline or oil and gas development project should be approved by all five countries. Therefore, Moscow and Tehran cannot prohibit trans-Caspian pipelines, but they have an opportunity to delay their implementation under the pretext of real or perceived environmental risks.
The Convention on the status of the Caspian is a framework. It does not specifically define the boundaries between the territorial waters and the economic sectors of coastal states. If Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have basically reached agreement on the north of the Caspian, delimitation between Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran in the southern part of the sea has yet to be implemented at bilateral and trilateral talks. In November of this year, a working group of representatives of the foreign ministries of the Caspian littoral states, established following the results of the 5th Caspian Summit, will meet in Baku and begin developing a methodology for establishing direct baselines in the Caspian. Negotiations will not be simple, but it is important that the adopted convention has created a legal framework and a format for harmonizing interests. With mutual concessions, the finding of compromises is quite achievable.
Azerbaijan is committed to cooperation in the Caspian. This was said by President Ilham Aliyev in his speech at the summit, inviting his neighbors to use our experience, technical and logistical capabilities. Azerbaijan occupies a special place in the Caspian Sea as the oldest oil lab in the world and a pioneer in offshore oil production. During the independence, we, in partnership with leading transnational campaigns, were the first in the Caspian to implement large-scale oil production projects such as Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli and the Shah Deniz gas field. Azerbaijan has implemented the largest project, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, and is completing the construction of the strategic Southern Gas Corridor through which Caspian oil and gas will be delivered to world markets. The use of modern floating drilling rigs, geophysical and other specialized vessels for exploration and development of oil and gas fields can significantly accelerate and reduce the cost of operations of the Caspian countries in their sectors.
In short, the adoption of the Convention not only removes the risks of confrontation and clashes between the Caspian states and creates a favourable situation along the long sea line of Azerbaijan, but also increases the geopolitical weight of the country for Russia and Iran as an important partner in the energy and transport sectors. As to Armenia, the essence of comments of experts and parliamentarians in Yerevan shows that the signing of the Convention with the increasing role of Azerbaijan reduces the geopolitical significance of Armenia and this will sooner or later affect the process of the Karabakh settlement not in favor of Armenians.
In regional and global media, many comments and analytical assessments have been published about the real benefactor of the Convention. At the same time, it is mentioned unambiguously that Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are the largest beneficiaries. But none of the Caspian states can be considered a loser. This demonstrates that the diplomats have done a good job. After all, a compromise is really successful, when each of the participants in the transaction believes that it has benefited more from it than from tension and uncertainty. Illusions that the adoption of the Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea managed to resolve all controversial issues have no evidence. In the future, we can expect difficult negotiations to resolve existing and emerging problems. It is important that a legal framework has been created, from which the states can move forward and ensure the main status of the Caspian Sea as a sea of peace and cooperation.