Deciding the future of the Caspian Sea

This article was originally published by

Radio Azadliq

in Russian.


In Astana on July 13th, a meeting took place between the foreign ministers of the Caspian 5: Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation. The purpose of the meeting was to bring about greater mutual understanding and agreement between the states with respect to the legal status of the Caspian Basin.

Heads of the Caspian 5 States
Heads of the Caspian 5 States

The meeting took place behind closed doors.

However, it would appear that there is not an entirely unified understanding of what is in need of regulation: representatives of Kazakhstan reported on the need to solve four issues in particular, while Iran stated its interest in clarifying seven points.

It had earlier been planned that a summit with the Heads of the Caspian States would take place before the end of 2016. However, the exact date has been pushed back. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, announced that the meeting would be held sometime next year. He also reported that the project, “Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea” was 90% ready.

During upcoming meetings in Tehran and Astrakhan, questions concerning the construction of seafloor telecommunication lines, navigation, transit and territorial delimitation will be discussed. A second meeting of Foreign Ministers will follow, after which a date for the 5th Summit of the Heads of the Caspian States will be set.

“Lake with a special status”

According to Iranian media, the Caspian states have been unable to agree on seven issues. However, it did not specify which problems were still in need of a solution.

In an interview, Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran, Ibrahim Rahimpur, noted that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Agreements of 1921 and 1940 are no longer valid.

Under these agreements, the Soviet Union and Iran were granted equal rights to the Caspian Sea. However, the Iranian side has demonstrated that it is willing to abide by these documents until an agreement concerning the new legal status of the Caspian Sea has been attained.

“It would appear that Iran is on one side, and the other four states are on the other side. In short, all five countries have different goals, but we have been conducting fair and progressive negotiations”, noted Rahimpur.

According to him, current laws related to the sea are insufficient and do not determine to the fullest extent the political status of the “largest lake in the world.”

Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Russia between 1998 to 2003, signed an agreement on the division of the coastline of the northern part of the Caspian Sea. A similar agreement in 2014 was signed between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, which came into force last year.

However, it is clear Iran did not approve of these actions. Until 1998, Iran believed that it should own the same proportion of the coastline as Russia.

During the meeting in Astana, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said that Azerbaijan gives great importance to the agreements on the delimitation of the Caspian Sea between Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Russia, and expressed his hope for an early settlement of the issues on the delimitation of the seabed in the central and southern parts of the Caspian Sea.

It is expected that the next meeting of the presidents of Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia will be held on August 8th in Baku, during which it is hoped that this issue will be discussed.

The Caspian between Russia and Iran

Iran and Russia are opposed to the construction of a pipeline by Turkmenistan under the Caspian Sea, citing alleged concern for the environment. This however makes it impossible for Turkmenistan to deliver its gas to Europe by bypassing Russia.

An agreement on the delimitation of the Caspian Sea between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan was signed in 1997. However, disputes concerning the ownership of several oil fields between the two countries are one of the obstacles in determining the status of the Caspian Sea.

In dividing the northern part of the Caspian Sea, 29 percent of the coastline was given to Kazakhstan, 19 to Russia, 18 to Azerbaijan. Turkmenistan owns 21 percent, Iran – 13 percent of the coastline.

During the 24 – year long negotiations, the working group of the Caspian States has held 46 meetings.

During the 4th Summit of the Heads of the Caspian States, leaders agreed to issues concerning the prevention of emergency situations in the Caspian Basin and on the conservation and rational use of the water resources of the Caspian.

The first international agreement on the Caspian Sea was signed by Russia and Iran. According to the agreement of Gulistan in 1813 and the subsequent Turkmenchay agreement of 1828, Russia obtained several advantages over Iran, and deprived the Iranians of the right to ship on the sea. However, in the agreements of 1921 and 1940, Iran regained many of these rights.

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