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Pressing issues of the Caspian Sea delimitation

photo: business.com.tm
21 June 2023

Negotiations between Kazakhstan and Russia at the level of special envoys of the two countries took place in Astana.

Zulfia Amanzholova, the special representative for the Caspian Sea issues, roving envoy of the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Kazakhstan, headed the Kazakh delegation. Mikhail Petrakov, roving envoy of the RF Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the head of Russian delegation at the multilateral negotiations on the  Caspian Sea issues, was the head of the vis-а-vis team.

It is understood that the Parties discussed the relevant issues of Kazakh-Russian cooperation within the Caspian negotiations process, they shared their visions on the international agreements drafts currently under review by the Caspian countries.

In connection with the consultations, it should be noted that the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea signed at the Fifth Caspian Summit in Aktau on 12 August 2018 is a framework document, which does not include all the range of delimitation issues.

In particular, this relates to the delimitation of the Southern part of the Caspian Sea bed between Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran. In accordance with Article 8 of the Convention, this should be resolved based on the agreements between the neighboring and opposite states with account of the commonly accepted international law principles and rules. The Convention does not speak about the methodology for establishing the straight baselines for calculating the width of the territorial seas and for defining the commonly accepted maritime state boundaries. [1]

In this regard, within the Fifth Caspian Summit Ц 2018, the heads of states decided to create the mechanism of regular penta-lateral consultations under the auspices of their Foreign Affairs Ministries at the level of Deputy Ministers / special envoys of the Caspian countries Ц the high-level Caspian Sea Work Group with the objective to provide for effective implementation of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea and to review various aspects of cooperation in the Region. The endorsement of the draft agreement on the methodology for establishing the straight baselines is one of the priorities of the Work Group.

Negotiations status

As of today, five Work Group meetings took place. In H1 2019 there were two of them Ц on 19-20 February 2019 in Baku and 16-17 April 2019 in Nur-Sultan (currently Astana). The third meeting was initially scheduled for July 2019 in Iran, but for technical reasons it was re-scheduled for October 2019 in Moscow. Eventually, for almost two years there were no meetings of the Work Group, which caused certain concern for the progress of negotiations between the Caspian countries.

The activities within penta-lateral format were resumed in 2021 году: the third meeting of the Work Group took place on 8-9 February in Moscow. In 2022, two meetings were held Ц the fourth one on 23-24 May in Teheran and the fifth one on 13-15 December in Moscow.

The following delegations participated in the last meeting: Azerbaijan (led by H. Halafov), Iran (led by M. Barimani), Kazakhstan (led by Z. Amanzholova), Russia (led by M. Petrakov) and Turkmenistan (led by M. Atadjanov). At the end of the day, it was reported that the Parties continued discussing the draft agreement on the methodology of establishing the straight baselines in the Caspian Sea and reviewed the cooperation in the Caspian Region. The next Work Group meeting is to be held in Turkmenistan.

In addition to the penta-lateral consultations on territorial delimitation, the Caspian states representatives are discussing the delimitation in bilateral format. For example, specialists from Russia held negotiations with their colleagues from Azerbaijan and Iran.

In July 2019, in Moscow Halaf Halafov, the Deputy Foreign Minister and special envoy of the President of Azerbaijan on delimitation of the Caspian Sea, and Igor Bratchikov, the special envoy of the RF President in the Work Group on the Caspian Sea and roving envoy of the RF Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During the negotiations, the Parties discussed the issues on the agenda of the next meeting of the Work Group and shared their opinions on the open issues in the draft agreement on the methodology for establishing the straight baselines in the Caspian Sea.

Mikhail Petrakov, after he replaced Igor Bratchikov as the special envoy for the Caspian Sea, held a meeting with Kazem Jalali, the Iranian Ambassador to Moscow on 22 January 2021. The Parties discussed joining the efforts of the Caspian states for the purpose of optimal peaceful use of this sea and agreed some of the issues associated with the next meeting of the Work Group.

Representatives of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan also are engaged in active discussions on delimitation of the Caspian Sea. There were two meetings of their delegations within the Work Group on the Caspian Sea bed delimitation established  by Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. The meetings were held in Baku on 12-13 September 2022 гand in Ashkhabad on 24-25 January 2023 and reviewed the draft agreement on the Caspian Sea bed delimitation between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

Finalization of delimitation as the condition for ratifying the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea

Successful negotiations of the Caspian states representatives on the methodology for establishing the straight baselines currently are one of the main conditions set forth by the Iranian Party for completing the ratification of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea signed 5 years ago.

In accordance with the international law, all the signed treaties should undergo the ratification process (lat. ratificatio, from ratus Ц resolved, approved, and facere Ц to make). It is the process of validating a document by approving it by the respective body of each of the Parties. As a rule, such document is not legal valid and enforceable before the ratification, so it is not binding for the Party not having ratified it. However, the Venna Convention on the Law of Treaties between States or International Organizations prescribes that the state having signed a treaty, but not having ratified it, to refrain from actions invalidating «the subject and the purposes» of such treaty from the moment of signing it until it is ratified or rejected, i.e., to refrain from actions obviously contradicting the objectives such treaty is designed for. Hence, the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea signed on August 12 in Aktau has not come into effect and is not a binding document.

Iran is the only Caspian state not having ratified the Convention.

It is known that the agreement on the legal status of the Caspian Sea was ambiguously perceived in Iran. Starting from the date of signing the Convention, Hassan Rouhani, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) was criticized by the parliamentary conservatives and religious figures. The head of the state together with Mohammad Javad Zarif were accused of neglecting the Iranian interests. In connection with this, the Parliament required a report on the agreement signed in Aktau. Thus, Mahmoud Sadeghi, the Majilis member, compared the Convention with the Treaty of Turkmenchay of 1828 between Persia and the tzarist Russia. [2]

Some Iranian experts qualified signing the Convention as a fiasco from the standpoint of implementing TeheranТs ambitions in the Caspian Region, because after this Summit «Iran will have to wait for and to think through the actions of its neighbor Ц Russia». [3]

The following factors underpin this negative perception of the Convention in Iran:

1. Possible territorial losses of Teheran in the Caspian Region. Historically, starting from early 1920s and until 1991, Iran and the Soviet Union delimited the Caspian Sea, but now Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan claim at least 20% of the Sea territory. Moreover, according to the Convention, Iran can receive only 11-13% of the Caspian Sea due to its very small coastline.

2. Unfavorable situation for Iran: when the Convention was signed, Teheran was under maximum sanctions-related pressure on behalf of the USA. This gives the  grounds for the Convention critics the grounds to believe that Russia was using the unfavorable circumstances to its own benefit.

3. The current negotiations on the legal status of the Caspian Sea and on demarcation of the Iranian Caspian borders are non-transparent, which is perceived by many observers as the desire of the leaders to «play down» their diplomatic failure.

4. Historical distrust in Russia on behalf of a part of the Iranian society, because starting from the 18th century, Russia significantly expanded its territory in the Caspian Region on account of the former Persian/Iranian domain.

Hence, despite the fact that IranТs decision to sign the Convention was, quite probable, carefully thought out and weighted, as well as agreed with certain political centers of the country, there was and still is a quite sustainable opposition to the Convention in Iran. It means that its ratification depends on the political situation inside the IRI, as well as on TeheranТs relations with Moscow and Washington.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the cabinet of the former President, in one of his interviews emphasized that the ratification of the Convention depends on resolving the demarcation and delimitation issues in the Southern Caspian Region Ц i.e., in the Iran Ц Azerbaijan Ц Turkmenistan triangle. [4]

Abbas Musawi, the former official of the Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry and currently the Iranian Ambassador to Baku, also emphasized the need to complete the negotiations on the territorial sea delimitation and to draft the penta-lateral agreement on the straight baselines. According to him, the Caspian Sea has quite special features, so any decisions on its status require very careful technical and legal studies resulting in the ratification of the Convention. [5]

Conclusion

Hence, we need to admit that the situation with finalizing the delimitation of the Caspian water area remains uncertain. We can only hope that it will not become the sticking point for Teheran, Baku and Ashkhabad, and that the Parties will build their policies based on the supremacy of safeguarding of peace and security in the Caspian Region. All the more so as the successful settlement of similar issues between Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan may be a good example, because today it allows for successful cooperation in developing the hydrocarbons field being on the crossroads of national sectors of the Caspian Sea bed, which used to be disputable.

At the same time, the unfavorable factors affecting the situation in the Caspian Region still persist. Absence of the agreed methodology for establishing the  straight baselines underpins the high probability of conflict scenarios between Iran, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, as well as of local border incidents emerging in the disputed areas of the Caspian Sea. Such incidents may cause significant harm to the developing economic cooperation in the Caspian Region including between Iran and EAEU, as well as Iran and Russia.

On top of that, if the USA and NATO countries avail of such conflict situation for their military and political penetration into the Region, this factor will create significant complications for the interests and the security of Russia in the Caspian vector.

Thereupon, intensification of penta-lateral and bilateral contacts of the Caspian countries on delimitation of the Caspian Sea is completely in line with the interests of Moscow.

1. According to Article 1 of the Convention, the width of the territorial seas in the areas with curved coastline or with island chains close to the coastline should be calculated from the straight baselines. The methodology for establishing the straight baselines should be defined by a separate agreement between all the Parties. Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea. http://www.kremlin.ru/supplement/5328

2. Ratification of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea is expected to be difficult in Iran. Caspian Bulletin, 26.08.2018. http://casp-geo.ru/protsess-ratifikatsii-konventsii-o-pravovom-statuse-kaspiya-v-irane-obeshhaet-byt-slozhnym/

3. Alex Vatanka, a US political analyst of Iranian origin, senior research associate in the Middle East Institute and Jamestown Foundation (Washington), in his article for Caspian Affairs Magazine provided a detailed description of the IraniansТ attitude to the agreement signed at the Fifth Caspian Summit. Alex Vatanka. The Caspian and IranТs Foreign Policy Problems. Caspian Affairs Magazine, 2019, p. 40-43. http://www.caspianpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Caspian-Affairs-Magazine-January-Issue-2019-1.pdf

4. Iran ready to exchange prisoners with US: Zarif. https://en.isna.ir/news/99070100676/Iran-ready-to-exchange-prisoners-with-US-Zarif

5. What did the Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry contemplate by commenting the situation around the legal status of the Caspian Sea? Caspian Bulletin, 12.08.2019. http://casp-geo.ru/chto-imel-vvidu-mid-irana-kommentiruya-situatsiyu-vokrug-opredeleniya-pravogo-statusa-kaspiya/

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Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies
Publications

Pressing issues of the Caspian Sea delimitation

photo: business.com.tm
23 июн€ 2023

Negotiations between Kazakhstan and Russia at the level of special envoys of the two countries took place in Astana.

Zulfia Amanzholova, the special representative for the Caspian Sea issues, roving envoy of the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Kazakhstan, headed the Kazakh delegation. Mikhail Petrakov, roving envoy of the RF Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the head of Russian delegation at the multilateral negotiations on the  Caspian Sea issues, was the head of the vis-а-vis team.

It is understood that the Parties discussed the relevant issues of Kazakh-Russian cooperation within the Caspian negotiations process, they shared their visions on the international agreements drafts currently under review by the Caspian countries.

In connection with the consultations, it should be noted that the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea signed at the Fifth Caspian Summit in Aktau on 12 August 2018 is a framework document, which does not include all the range of delimitation issues.

In particular, this relates to the delimitation of the Southern part of the Caspian Sea bed between Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran. In accordance with Article 8 of the Convention, this should be resolved based on the agreements between the neighboring and opposite states with account of the commonly accepted international law principles and rules. The Convention does not speak about the methodology for establishing the straight baselines for calculating the width of the territorial seas and for defining the commonly accepted maritime state boundaries. [1]

In this regard, within the Fifth Caspian Summit Ц 2018, the heads of states decided to create the mechanism of regular penta-lateral consultations under the auspices of their Foreign Affairs Ministries at the level of Deputy Ministers / special envoys of the Caspian countries Ц the high-level Caspian Sea Work Group with the objective to provide for effective implementation of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea and to review various aspects of cooperation in the Region. The endorsement of the draft agreement on the methodology for establishing the straight baselines is one of the priorities of the Work Group.

Negotiations status

As of today, five Work Group meetings took place. In H1 2019 there were two of them Ц on 19-20 February 2019 in Baku and 16-17 April 2019 in Nur-Sultan (currently Astana). The third meeting was initially scheduled for July 2019 in Iran, but for technical reasons it was re-scheduled for October 2019 in Moscow. Eventually, for almost two years there were no meetings of the Work Group, which caused certain concern for the progress of negotiations between the Caspian countries.

The activities within penta-lateral format were resumed in 2021 году: the third meeting of the Work Group took place on 8-9 February in Moscow. In 2022, two meetings were held Ц the fourth one on 23-24 May in Teheran and the fifth one on 13-15 December in Moscow.

The following delegations participated in the last meeting: Azerbaijan (led by H. Halafov), Iran (led by M. Barimani), Kazakhstan (led by Z. Amanzholova), Russia (led by M. Petrakov) and Turkmenistan (led by M. Atadjanov). At the end of the day, it was reported that the Parties continued discussing the draft agreement on the methodology of establishing the straight baselines in the Caspian Sea and reviewed the cooperation in the Caspian Region. The next Work Group meeting is to be held in Turkmenistan.

In addition to the penta-lateral consultations on territorial delimitation, the Caspian states representatives are discussing the delimitation in bilateral format. For example, specialists from Russia held negotiations with their colleagues from Azerbaijan and Iran.

In July 2019, in Moscow Halaf Halafov, the Deputy Foreign Minister and special envoy of the President of Azerbaijan on delimitation of the Caspian Sea, and Igor Bratchikov, the special envoy of the RF President in the Work Group on the Caspian Sea and roving envoy of the RF Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During the negotiations, the Parties discussed the issues on the agenda of the next meeting of the Work Group and shared their opinions on the open issues in the draft agreement on the methodology for establishing the straight baselines in the Caspian Sea.

Mikhail Petrakov, after he replaced Igor Bratchikov as the special envoy for the Caspian Sea, held a meeting with Kazem Jalali, the Iranian Ambassador to Moscow on 22 January 2021. The Parties discussed joining the efforts of the Caspian states for the purpose of optimal peaceful use of this sea and agreed some of the issues associated with the next meeting of the Work Group.

Representatives of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan also are engaged in active discussions on delimitation of the Caspian Sea. There were two meetings of their delegations within the Work Group on the Caspian Sea bed delimitation established  by Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. The meetings were held in Baku on 12-13 September 2022 гand in Ashkhabad on 24-25 January 2023 and reviewed the draft agreement on the Caspian Sea bed delimitation between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

Finalization of delimitation as the condition for ratifying the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea

Successful negotiations of the Caspian states representatives on the methodology for establishing the straight baselines currently are one of the main conditions set forth by the Iranian Party for completing the ratification of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea signed 5 years ago.

In accordance with the international law, all the signed treaties should undergo the ratification process (lat. ratificatio, from ratus Ц resolved, approved, and facere Ц to make). It is the process of validating a document by approving it by the respective body of each of the Parties. As a rule, such document is not legal valid and enforceable before the ratification, so it is not binding for the Party not having ratified it. However, the Venna Convention on the Law of Treaties between States or International Organizations prescribes that the state having signed a treaty, but not having ratified it, to refrain from actions invalidating «the subject and the purposes» of such treaty from the moment of signing it until it is ratified or rejected, i.e., to refrain from actions obviously contradicting the objectives such treaty is designed for. Hence, the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea signed on August 12 in Aktau has not come into effect and is not a binding document.

Iran is the only Caspian state not having ratified the Convention.

It is known that the agreement on the legal status of the Caspian Sea was ambiguously perceived in Iran. Starting from the date of signing the Convention, Hassan Rouhani, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) was criticized by the parliamentary conservatives and religious figures. The head of the state together with Mohammad Javad Zarif were accused of neglecting the Iranian interests. In connection with this, the Parliament required a report on the agreement signed in Aktau. Thus, Mahmoud Sadeghi, the Majilis member, compared the Convention with the Treaty of Turkmenchay of 1828 between Persia and the tzarist Russia. [2]

Some Iranian experts qualified signing the Convention as a fiasco from the standpoint of implementing TeheranТs ambitions in the Caspian Region, because after this Summit «Iran will have to wait for and to think through the actions of its neighbor Ц Russia». [3]

The following factors underpin this negative perception of the Convention in Iran:

1. Possible territorial losses of Teheran in the Caspian Region. Historically, starting from early 1920s and until 1991, Iran and the Soviet Union delimited the Caspian Sea, but now Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan claim at least 20% of the Sea territory. Moreover, according to the Convention, Iran can receive only 11-13% of the Caspian Sea due to its very small coastline.

2. Unfavorable situation for Iran: when the Convention was signed, Teheran was under maximum sanctions-related pressure on behalf of the USA. This gives the  grounds for the Convention critics the grounds to believe that Russia was using the unfavorable circumstances to its own benefit.

3. The current negotiations on the legal status of the Caspian Sea and on demarcation of the Iranian Caspian borders are non-transparent, which is perceived by many observers as the desire of the leaders to «play down» their diplomatic failure.

4. Historical distrust in Russia on behalf of a part of the Iranian society, because starting from the 18th century, Russia significantly expanded its territory in the Caspian Region on account of the former Persian/Iranian domain.

Hence, despite the fact that IranТs decision to sign the Convention was, quite probable, carefully thought out and weighted, as well as agreed with certain political centers of the country, there was and still is a quite sustainable opposition to the Convention in Iran. It means that its ratification depends on the political situation inside the IRI, as well as on TeheranТs relations with Moscow and Washington.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the cabinet of the former President, in one of his interviews emphasized that the ratification of the Convention depends on resolving the demarcation and delimitation issues in the Southern Caspian Region Ц i.e., in the Iran Ц Azerbaijan Ц Turkmenistan triangle. [4]

Abbas Musawi, the former official of the Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry and currently the Iranian Ambassador to Baku, also emphasized the need to complete the negotiations on the territorial sea delimitation and to draft the penta-lateral agreement on the straight baselines. According to him, the Caspian Sea has quite special features, so any decisions on its status require very careful technical and legal studies resulting in the ratification of the Convention. [5]

Conclusion

Hence, we need to admit that the situation with finalizing the delimitation of the Caspian water area remains uncertain. We can only hope that it will not become the sticking point for Teheran, Baku and Ashkhabad, and that the Parties will build their policies based on the supremacy of safeguarding of peace and security in the Caspian Region. All the more so as the successful settlement of similar issues between Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan may be a good example, because today it allows for successful cooperation in developing the hydrocarbons field being on the crossroads of national sectors of the Caspian Sea bed, which used to be disputable.

At the same time, the unfavorable factors affecting the situation in the Caspian Region still persist. Absence of the agreed methodology for establishing the  straight baselines underpins the high probability of conflict scenarios between Iran, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, as well as of local border incidents emerging in the disputed areas of the Caspian Sea. Such incidents may cause significant harm to the developing economic cooperation in the Caspian Region including between Iran and EAEU, as well as Iran and Russia.

On top of that, if the USA and NATO countries avail of such conflict situation for their military and political penetration into the Region, this factor will create significant complications for the interests and the security of Russia in the Caspian vector.

Thereupon, intensification of penta-lateral and bilateral contacts of the Caspian countries on delimitation of the Caspian Sea is completely in line with the interests of Moscow.

1. According to Article 1 of the Convention, the width of the territorial seas in the areas with curved coastline or with island chains close to the coastline should be calculated from the straight baselines. The methodology for establishing the straight baselines should be defined by a separate agreement between all the Parties. Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea. http://www.kremlin.ru/supplement/5328

2. Ratification of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea is expected to be difficult in Iran. Caspian Bulletin, 26.08.2018. http://casp-geo.ru/protsess-ratifikatsii-konventsii-o-pravovom-statuse-kaspiya-v-irane-obeshhaet-byt-slozhnym/

3. Alex Vatanka, a US political analyst of Iranian origin, senior research associate in the Middle East Institute and Jamestown Foundation (Washington), in his article for Caspian Affairs Magazine provided a detailed description of the IraniansТ attitude to the agreement signed at the Fifth Caspian Summit. Alex Vatanka. The Caspian and IranТs Foreign Policy Problems. Caspian Affairs Magazine, 2019, p. 40-43. http://www.caspianpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Caspian-Affairs-Magazine-January-Issue-2019-1.pdf

4. Iran ready to exchange prisoners with US: Zarif. https://en.isna.ir/news/99070100676/Iran-ready-to-exchange-prisoners-with-US-Zarif

5. What did the Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry contemplate by commenting the situation around the legal status of the Caspian Sea? Caspian Bulletin, 12.08.2019. http://casp-geo.ru/chto-imel-vvidu-mid-irana-kommentiruya-situatsiyu-vokrug-opredeleniya-pravogo-statusa-kaspiya/