Leaders of countries sharing the shores of the Caspian Sea have met in the Kazakh port city of Aqtau. That summit has brought together the heads of Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to discuss and sign the convention on the legal status of the biggest endorheic basin (basin without outflows) in the world after more than two decades of dispute.
The presidents of the five states have reached final agreement Sunday for collective use of the Caspian Sea. The achievement of such an outcome may come as something of a surprise to the international community, since it was supposed to be the deal that never came to be.
Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Caspian Sea has been hotly disputed by the four post-Soviet republics bordering this largest inland body of water and Iran claiming rights to its resource-rich seabed and sturgeon-filled waters. It seemed that it would be very difficult for them to find common ground on this particular issue.
All of a sudden, a consensus has apparently been reached. It seems that this has been made possible thanks in large part to a softening of Iran’s position. Some years previously, it would have been unimaginable that Teheran could sign the convention, as it is, since it had long insisted on splitting the sea into five equal parts (20 per cent each). Such an offer would, if accepted, have been unfavorable for Kazakhstan which has the largest sector of the Caspian Sea and the largest reserves of oil and natural gas. Furthermore Iran had wanted the pipelines from Central Asia to go through its territory and it therefore had been against various underwater pipeline projects in the Caspian Sea up until recently. But none of these wishes has been reflected in the signed document.
It seems like Teheran has shown good will or made major concessions in order to support efforts to at last determine the legal status of the Caspian Sea, in the belief that the long-lasting uncertainty on this matter discourages cooperation among regional countries.
While addressing the media after the signing on Sunday, all five presidents characterized it as historic event. But the particulars of consensus on splitting the seabed remain largely unclear.
Those who earlier have become acquainted with the draft convention, note that article 14, paragraph 2, allows the signing countries to lay underwater cables and pipelines across the Caspian, making this issue subject only to the agreement of those states whose sectors the pipelines or cables will pass through.
And yet, there is no clear, unequivocal and uniform answer to the question whether the convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea adopted on Sunday would definitely clear a way for the pipelines.
The Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev noted that the document allowed pipelines to be laid as long as certain environmental standards were met. This is a very important issue for our country since the realization of Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline (TCGP) project would be particularly important for gas supplies from Kazakhstan to Georgia where JSC Tbilgaz, a subsidiary of KazTransGaz CJSC, is registered.
Total proven oil reserves of the Caspian Sea stand between 203 billion and 235 billion barrels of which 132 billion barrels belongs to the Republic of Kazakhstan, which accounts for the highest amount of oil reserves. Kazakhstan is followed by Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia and Uzbekistan, which respectively account for 7.39 billion, 39 billion, 15 billion, 3.7 billion, and 59.2 billion barrels of the Caspian oil reserves. Total proven gas reserves of the sea have been estimated at about 6.562 trillion cubic meters, while probable gas reserves have been estimated at 9.278 trillion cubic meters, which would amount to roughly 10 percent of total world gas reserves. Kazakhstan accounts for 29 per cent (2340 km out of about 7000km) of the Caspian shore line. Much attention is given to the sustainable development of this region in the Republic of Kazakhstan.