The Caspian Sea divided again
Victoria Panfilova, Nezavisimaya Gazeta
Today Foreign Ministers of the Caspian countries – Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Iran – are going to meet in Moscow. It will be the last element of preparation for the upcoming fourth summit of the Caspian states, which is planned for September. The main question is the legal status of the Caspian Sea. The unsettlement of the issue restrains the development of Caspian energy resources.
The reason for uncertainty of the Caspian status is absence of consensus between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, and Iran. Work on the direction continues and 80% of the text of the Convention on the Legal Status of the sea has been agreed. “To achieve a progress, division of the water service and division of the sea bottom should be considered separately,” Sergei Mikheyev, Director of the Institute for Caspian Cooperation, said at a video-bridge Moscow-Astana-Baku.
The expert hopes that “the parties will manage to make an agreement on the issue at the upcoming summit in Astrakhan.” According to Mikheyev, the unsettled problem of the Caspian status restrains development of its energy resources.
Primarily the EU is interested in Caspian resource supplies. It is lobbying construction of the Transcaspian pipeline. Russia and Iran stand against the pipe on the Caspian bottom, emphasizing that the project cannot be fulfilled without settlement of the legal status issue. However, in the context of the Ukrainian crisis, the European Union which tries to diversify its energy resource import renews negotiations with Baku and Ashkhabad. Malena Mard, the EU envoy to Azerbaijan, says that the EU doesn’t want to be dependent on the only source of gas – Russia. Thus, Brussels continues its negotiations with Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. “The South gas corridor which involved the Transcaspian project is still a priority for Brussels,” Mard said and reminded that the EU dreamt about shutting down the Russian project of the Southern Stream. At the same time, Ismail Agakishiyev, the president of the union of companies “Analysis. Consulting. PR,” told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that “possible gas supplies through the Transcaspian pipeline are not able to influence gas export of Russia negatively.”
Last Friday Turkmen energy resource supplies to the world market were discussed in Ashkhabad. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov met the head of the SOCAR Rovnag Avdullayev. “The parties discussed opportunities for joint projects on construction of transit gas pipelines which are bery important, considering the growing demand for stable energy supplies in the world market,” the press service of Turkmen President reported. A week before the meeting the head of the Turkmen Foreign Ministry Rashid Meredov discussed cooperation affairs with his Azerbaijani colleague Elmar Mamedyarov. After the talks, representatives of the SOCAR stated that “Azerbaijan is ready to afford its territory, transit capacities, and infrastructure for fulfillment of the project.”
Even though Baku and Ashkhabad rejects objections by Russia and Iran, stressing that the project touches on the interests of the two Caspian states only, Turkmenistan is ready for a compromise in the pentalateral format. Berdymukhamedov has recently said that “non-aligned Turkmenistan will continue to participate in development of mutually beneficial and balanced solutions of all problems connected with the Caspian Sea.” The Azerbaijani stance in the Caspian status issue is the division of the sea, according to a median line, professor of the Baku State University, the head of the Center for Regional Studies, Chingiz Ismailov, says. According to him, there are chances to find common grounds with Turkmenistan, but to reach an agreement with Iran is very difficult.
Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan cannot find a compromise in the question of belonging to the Kyapaz field. “Azerbaijan offered Turkmenistan joint exploitation of the field a decade ago, but Ashkhabad rejected the offer. As for the Caspian status, Baku still thinks that a perfect option would be agreement of Iran and Turkmenistan with principles of the trilateral treaty of Russian, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan – on the Caspian bottom’s demarcation line,” Ilgar Velizade, the head of the political scientists’ club of “South Caucasus,” said.
When Hassan Rouhani came in office in Iran, a hope for making an agreement with Iran appeared. “The Iranian rhetoric softened. Previously Tehran disconcertingly insisted on division of the sea into equal shares, but today Iranian experts speak about a fair approach which would consider interests and views of the parties,” Velizade says. “For Azerbaijan it means wider opportunities for holding talks with Iran, based on defining a modified median line between the parties. The issue is not idle for both sides, as it is not only about the water surface, but also about resources. The disputed area includes a group of promising fields – Araz-Alov-Sharg,” the expert stated.