Cookies improve the way our website works, by using this website you are agreeing to our use of cookies .


Caucasus: Caspian Sea or Caspian Knot

On July 19-20, 2011, the foreign vice-ministers of countries from the Caspian Sea region met in Moscow. The participants form a ‘working group’ aiming to create a convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea. According to experts, the meeting did not contribute anything new and the ‘Caspian Knot’ remains untied.


The legal status of the Caspian Sea has been governed by treaties with the Soviet Union and Iran in 1921 and 1940. After the collapse of the USSR a problem occurred alongside the emerging states with access to the sea: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. The talks on regulation of the Sea’s status among Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran have been continued for more than 20 years.

The Caspian Sea, author: eutrophication&hypoxia, source:

So far, no consensus has been achieved. The countries’ economic potential and significance on the international arena depend on results of the negotiations. Thus, each state has its own concept of the sea demarcation, that is access to energy resources under the seabed. In view of coastal states’ diversity of interests, the status of the Caspian Sea becomes a complex issue legally and geopolitically.

Optimistic forecast

Before starting the conference, ambassador of the Russian Federation to Azerbaijan Vladimir Dorokhin said [ru]: ‘The Caspian Sea should unite countries located around it, not divide them.’ Azerbaijani foreign deputy minister Khalaf Khalafov optimistically reported[ru] from Moscow that nothing stands in the way of signing the convention. He added: ‘all sides, almost without an exception, are willing and able to accelerate working on the agreement.’ Supposedly, by sides Khalafov meant countries know as the ‘Caspian coalition’ (Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan) against two ‘exceptions’ – Azerbaijan being on the contrary and hesitant Turkmenistan.

‘Caspian coalition’

Potential investors’ interests in Caspian oil induced certain countries to accept a compromise. Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan signed an agreement on demarcation of the northern part of the sea. These countries, forging the ‘Caspian coalition,’ are advocating division along the median line of the disputed water region. It means the seabed borders are to be in the equal distance from the coastal countries’ territories. This project aims to giving Kazakhstan 30 percent share, and, accordingly, Russia, Azerbaijan and Turkmensitan – about 19 percent each, Iran – 14 percent. Such solution is the most favourable to the ‘Caspian coalition’ states.

Profit and loss

Statements of the Russian ambassador and Azerbaijani deputy minister prove that these countries care for profiling – and promoting – the agreement as a peaceful endeavour to settle the Caspian issue as quickly as possible. It would legitimize their actions on the international arena. Each country of the coalition has different interests resulting from this agreement. Russia’s campaign for sea resources is, above all, a battle for retaining influence in the Caucasus region and Central Asia, and also confirming its international status as a supplier of energy resources.

Kazakhstan has the biggest oil deposits in the region. Astana is concentrating primarily on exporting oil to its major partner – Russia. Both countries are cooperating closely in the field of energy policy. Currently 75 percent of Kazakh oil is being transported through the Russian territory. The coalition allows to strengthen Russian-Kazakh relations. This way, Kremlin controls Kazakh oil and grants Kazakhstan use of Russian pipeline and export to the West – to Europe – and north of Russia.

For Azerbaijan, the coalition is a weapon in a fight against major rivals. Baku gained support in an Azerbaijani-Iranian conflict (a.o. an issue concerning demarcation of the Caspian Sea) and Azerbaijani-Turkmen (borders of countries’ sections not established).

Głowy państw - uczestnicy trzeciego szczytu kaspijskiego, źródło:

Head of states - participants of the third Caspian summit, source:

Iran on the other side of a barricade

Caspian oil deposits present only an addition to major energy generating sources of Iran. Teheran regards the Caspian Sea as reserves for draining resources of the Persian Gulf, and is a vivid opponent of the ‘Caspian coalition.’ Iran suggested dividing the sea into equal shares (20 percent per each country). In such case one-third of the present Azerbaijani part would be transferred under Iran jurisdiction, which is totally unacceptable to Baku. So far Iran is the only vocal opponent of the coalition countries’ proposal. We can assume that, according to the Azerbaijani Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Iran is the country which is preventing signing the convention. The ‘Caspian coalition’ is strong enough to make Iran a minority. Therefore, the final vote belongs to Turkmenistan, which as yet has not issued its statement.

Case of Turkmenistan

In an interview for[en] Rustam Mammadov, an Azerbaijani historian and lawyer, was sceptical in his comment about the meeting of the working group, which does not move anything from words to actions. In his opinions, no new decisions will appear. Mammadov noted the special role of Turkmenistan during negotiations. Nevertheless, the analyst does not disregard the ongoing talks. ‘If the actual course of events really changes, this will change also the situation around the Caspian problems.’ According to Mammadov, having the current balance of forces in the Caspian region, the most depends on the tactics of Turkmenistan. Ashgabat must decide whether to back the ‘troika’ – Russia-Azerbaijan-Kazakhstan – or Iran. Mammadov claims that Turkmenistan gravitates to the ‘post-Soviet three.’ This arrangement results in Iran becoming minority, so it is going back to the Soviet demarcation of the seabed.

At the third Caspian summit, source:

Turkmenistan does not exploit its oil resources. In order to do it, the country needs interstate agreements and the open market to international investments. Joining the coalition of former Soviet states would create a chance for exploring the country’s energy potential. Turkmenistan is hesitating, dreading being dependent upon Russia. Another problem is Azerbaijani-Turkmen relations. The issue of a median line separating state sectors of both countries is yet not settled. It could be inconvenient and prevent from signing any agreement on sharing the Caspian Sea.


Azerbaijani political scientist Tofig Abbasov is restrained while commenting [ru] – in his opinion: ‘neither working group meetings nor the summit of the Caspian Sea countries will make a breakthrough in settling the major problem – status of the Caspian Sea.’ The current political situation does not indicate any forthcoming change regarding legal status of the Caspian Sea, both in the framework of the working meetings and approaching summit.

Sonia Auguścik

The Author:
Sonia Auguścikwas born but a few months before the collapse of the Soviet Union. She comes from Upper Silesia, but became fond of Warsaw. A student of law and ethnology at the College of Inter-Faculty Individual Studies in the Humanities, University of Warsaw, she is not fond of writing about herself too much.

Editing: PL

Facebook Comments

Autor "Współpraca" to oznaczenie artykułów osób, które występują na łamach gościnnie i nie są na stałe członkami zespołu.

Load all