Caspian Sea countries sign landmark deal, diffuse tension
AKTAU, Kazakhstan — The leaders of the five states bordering the resource-rich Caspian Sea signed a landmark deal on Sunday on the legal status of the inland sea which boasts a wealth of oil and gas reserves and sturgeon.
The leaders of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan signed the agreement on the legal status of the sea, with the host, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, saying before the signing that the leaders were “participants in a historic event”.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin, whose country was seen as driving the deal, said the convention had “epoch-making significance” and called for more military cooperation between the countries on the Caspian.
Nazarbayev said allows for the the convention construction of underwater oil and gas pipelines as well as setting national quotas for fishing and forbids any foreign military presence.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was quick to hail the clause that prevents non-Caspian countries from deploying military forces.
“The Caspian Sea only belongs to the Caspian states,” he said.
The draft agreement, briefly made public on a Russian government portal in June, refers to the Caspian as a sea but the provisions give it “a special legal status”, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told Kommersant daily.
It is the Caspian’s vast hydrocarbon reserves — estimated at around 50 billion barrels of oil and just under 8.4 trillion cubic meters of natural gas in proved and probable reserves — that have made a deal both vital and complex to achieve.
“Disputes arose when the Caspian was a frontier oil province,” said John Roberts, of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, while it is “now well established, with major fields approaching peak ... production”.
Any deal will “expand the field for multilateral cooperation” between the five states, said Ilham Shaban, who heads the Caspian Barrel think tank.
Beyond military and economic questions, the agreement also offers hope for the Caspian’s ecological diversity.
Reportedly depleted stocks of the beluga sturgeon, whose eggs are prized as caviar, may now grow thanks to “a clear common regime for the waters of the Central Caspian,” Roberts said.